The recently concluded 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was historic on several fronts. It was the first time the Summer Olympics was held twice in an Asian country, although Japan had been the venue for three previous Games — Summer 1964, Winter 1972, and Winter 1998.
Less positively, it was also the first time that the Games were postponed due to adverse circumstances, in this instance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, three Games were canceled because of wars. These were in 1916 (Germany – World War I), 1940 (Japan – Sino-Japanese War), and 1944 (Italy – World War II).
- The Tokyo Olympics is the only Olympic Games to be postponed rather than canceled due to adverse circumstances.
- Thousands of international students who were trained in HEIs in the US as well as other countries competed in the Olympics, representing their home countries.
- The Olympics and international education are both global in scope and influence in the pursuit of excellence, friendship, and respect.
Resilience in action
For the 2020 Olympics, the one-year delay was only the tip of the iceberg. Because of the ongoing pandemic, many feared that the Games would become a super spreader event. As a result, there was no live audience, and interaction was limited among athletes. Mobility restrictions also affected news coverage.
What most struck me, however, was the impressive talent and skill on display. Despite having no spectators, the participating athletes went all out in their quest for gold and glory for their home countries.
The level of competition was just as fierce as if there were cheering crowds on the stands. I would venture to say that the goal for these top athletes was not adulation, but an affirmation that they are the best in their field.
Excellence on two fronts
It was also interesting to note that many top athletes are or had been international students in the US, Japan, Canada, the UK, and other countries. Many attended higher education institutions (HEIs) abroad as athletic scholars. Many of them move on to represent their home countries in the Olympics but many go back to their HEIs after representing their countries to pursue their education and further train in their chosen sport.
Top-seeded golfer and recent US Open champion Yuka Saso is Filipino-Japanese and acquired part of her education in Japan. However, she returned to the Philippines at the age of eight to train as a professional golfer. She impressively represented the Philippines on the world stage, including in the Tokyo Olympics, where she ended in the top 10.
More than 1,000 participants in the Tokyo Olympics competing for their home countries were NCAA student-athletes in the US. Those that won medals included Remona Burchell (Jamaica – Gold – Women’s 4x100m relay), Armand “Mondo” Duplantis (Sweden – Gold – Men’s pole vault), and Rory Sabbatini (Slovakia – Silver – Golf), Mihailo Vasić (Serbia – Bronze – Men’s 3×3 basketball).
The proliferation of international students in a competition such as the Olympics is understandable. As with Austrian diver Constantin Blaha, who competed in the 2008 Olympic Games, athletes in many countries often have to choose between getting an education or training for competitions. The term “student-athlete” was a misnomer in Austria but not in countries such as the US.
International education is global in scope as much as competitions such as the Olympics are. According to the International Olympic Committee:
“The three values of Olympism are excellence, friendship, and respect. They constitute the foundation on which the Olympic Movement builds its activities to promote sport, culture, and education to build a better world.”
Olympic athletes and international students are one in the pursuit of excellence, international friendships, and respect for cultural differences. As such, global HEIs play a crucial role in shaping these athletes to become world-class competitors.
As a purveyor of international education, I have seen how it has given students a unique global experience. It provides them a broader outlook and a greater appreciation of other countries and cultures and their own.
It is not strange to me at all that while international students trained their minds and bodies in their host institutions, they remain grounded in their home countries. Many will go back to school to continue their studies. Still, the Olympics experience is a good reminder that balancing athletic and academic pursuits and achieving excellence on both fronts is possible. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)
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Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.
She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.
Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.