Yesterday marked a somber anniversary. 25 years ago on 7 April 1994, the nation of Rwanda exploded in a paroxysm of genocide in which 800,000 Tutsi people were slaughtered by the majority Hutu population in a matter of 100 days.
There is a powerful message here that should chasten people in every land, for a hard-line strain of populist nationalism is growing once again in many parts of the globe. It is not an inconsequential trend.
Whether it’s the Brexit battle in Great Britain – in or out of the European Union? – what’s called “authoritarian capitalism” in China, or the expanding populist nationalism of Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and, yes, Donald Trump in the USA, everywhere we look we see nations pulling back from a democratic globalist agenda as long-held systems come under strain from the twin poles of advancing technology and retreating opportunity.
Yet there is another trend which plays against that troubling movement, the trend in movement itself.
This past weekend may well have been the busiest for the universal sport of running in the calendar year. Everywhere you looked there was a marathon or road race bringing people together of every kind. Some were more local or regional quality events. Others were high-performance events with interested fans following updates from around the globe.
Among the marathons were ones in Daegu, Hannover, Charlottesville, Vienna, Rotterdam, Milan, Rome, Abilene, Pyongchang, Debno, St. Louis, Lodz, Sao Paolo, Santiago, Milwaukee, Freiburg, Manchester, and Bratislava.
In each event, the universal qualities that identify us all as human, determination, desire, fortitude, and resolve – qualities that know no political, religious, or racial affiliation – were on full display.
I realized when I first visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in my mother’s native Poland how this savagery lives within us all and how it is the entropy against which we must all be on constant guard.
Since the days of the Ancient Olympic Games, sport has been a binding force in the matters of men. We may not always choose to follow the lessons we learn in the arena, but the simple truth remains that the more often we bare our legs in sport, the less likely we are to bear our arms in conflict.
So thanks to all the race organizations and organizers whose own efforts make it possible for us to express the best of our selves to one another in a common struggle against our own limitations, prejudices, and frailties.