The Olympics & Religion: a Reflection on Lessons from London 2012

By Ripan Kaur, WSO Communications Intern

As viewers all across the globe have witnessed over the past few weeks, the Olympics demonstrated a coming together of different communities. The games were filled with fantastic moments, not only of the athletes’ achievements, but also a multitude of diverse identities. From Usain Bolt kneeling down in prayer after his victory in the 200m dash, to Canadian wrestler Arjan Bhullar proudly wearing a red turban when walking in with his fellow athletes during the opening ceremonies. An important legacy of the games is celebrating the world and its different cultures, languages, faiths through sport. London 2012 was no exception.

On top of upholding this tradition, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) should be congratulated for their efforts to ensure that the London 2012 games were one of the most religiously tolerant in history. In addition to the five faiths the International Olympic Committee normally requests facilitation for, which include the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religions, the Sikh, Zoroastrian, Jain and Baha’i faiths had been added to the list. LOCOG enlisted 193 chaplains in order to accommodate this new growth.

A positive outcome of this all embracing and inclusive policy for Sikhs is the Committee’s decision to accommodate kirpans at its events. Sikhs represent the fourth largest religion in Britain as reported in the 2001 census. The country is also host to the largest population of Sikhs outside of India. These numbers alone do not fully explain the long history Sikhs have had with Britain, as many Sikh soldiers had actively contributed to the British war effort in both the First and the Second World Wars. 

The kirpan accommodation in London follows the kirpan accommodation that took place during the 20120 Vancouver Olympics.  WSO worked with the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit in order to create a kirpan accommodation that has served as a precedent.   Due to its implementation and success, this policy made it possible for LOCOG to follow suit, with minimum difficulty and few complications.

In the case of London 2012, many British Sikhs were able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the games, indeed, were accessible for them to enjoy and actively participate in as well. More notably, Sikhs, and adherents of the other religions accommodated, could proudly feel included as being a part of the British identity. This all embracing inclusion, and the increasing accommodation to multiple faiths, means that the games were, in actuality, truly accessible to everyone.

It is important to note that there have been some reported cases of Sikhs being denied entry to Olympic football matches, as these stadiums fall under different, pre-existing regulations. This is unfortunate, to say the least. These sort of obstacles show that there are still some steps that still need to be taken to make the games accessible to all.

In spite of some setbacks, the overall attitude of the Organising Committee serves as a progressive and positive example.  
Looking back, and reflecting on London 2012, it has been refreshing to watch such an accepting and open environment. The overall slogan for the games was to “Inspire a generation.” Let’s hope that they inspired the world.

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