The Olympic value of Equality is best understood by the amazing testimonies of athletes that have stood out against racism and other forms of discrimination from those who viewed them as inferior. Jesse Owens is famously known for his four gold medal victories in the sprint, long-jump and relay races of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. At a event when Hitler was intending to spread propaganda about the “superiority” of the Aryan race, this momentous achievement by an American black athlete blew to pieces this racist lie.
The virtue of equality is in recognising the worth and value of all people, of whatever race, gender, background or culture. But more than that, equality means recognizing for ourselves that however strong our personal patriotism or pride in our own culture, we have lessons to learn from others, and there will be many ways in which their ways are better than ours.
However, the concept of equality has been often misused, because like so many values, it can be twisted around to be used as a weapon. “Equal rights” can quickly become “Equal demands” which can become “Demands to suit me whatever others might think. “George Orwell’s famous line from animal farm, “All animals are equal – but some animals are more equal than others,” is a sharp warning of how societies and people groups can use the disguise of equality to further their own agendas and seek power.
To be equal to someone does not mean to be identical. In fact, the true value of recognizing that another has equal worth to you is accepting that worth despite the fact that they may be very different from you with regards to their lifestyle, opinions, personality and hobbies. I am very pleased that Woman’s Boxing has been included on the Olympics programme – but not because it implies that woman are identical to men, but because it shows that women are different and diverse in the sports they like, and some of them love boxing. I would support those who would want to include Men’s Synchronized Swimming in the Olympics programme for a similar reason.
Neither does equality mean accepting that all opinions or arguments are equally valid. In our postmodern society, there is some pressure put upon is to assume that “what I believe and my culture believes” defines who I am, and therefore to disagree with my beliefs means to discriminate against me. But as was demonstrated by Jesse Owens, whose victory challenged Hitler’s racist ideals – not all opinions and beliefs are equal – many need to be challenged.
For Christians, the value of equality comes from recognizing that we are all created beings before God, and so one person is no better than another. So Jesus said the first and most important commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37) . The second is the mark of true equality – “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt 22:39)