Tour de France -
It is so refreshing in this time of "might-makes-right" politics, name- calling, and dwindling cooperation on global problems by our current U.S. administration, to follow a sporting event that puts a code of honor over personal or team victory. In his fifth victory in the recently completed Tour de France, Lance Armstrong won the hearts of all who viewed this competition, not by his victory, but by his graciousness. French people welcomed him waiving the Stars and Stripes and everywhere he was called "un grand monsieur," literally "a great gentleman."
In this arcane sport, which takes time for an American to really appreciate, victory is not in defeating a competitor but in surviving a physical and moral test of endurance within a field where all are respected and encouraged to do their best by the other athletes. When Lance Armstrong fell in one of the last stages the whole leading pack slowed so that he could catch up rather than take advantage of his misfortune. In the code of the Tour de France there would be no honor winning due to another racer's misfortune. There is a great sense of fellowship in a sport where all are facing the same monumental and grueling challenges.
Another unique part of this sport is the team aspect. All teams are multi-national so fans of many nations may root for their favorites on a variety of different teams with nationals of other countries. For example, the US Postal team is made up of three Americans, three Spaniards, one Russian, one Czechoslovak, and one Colombian while there are a scattering of American cyclists on teams with sponsors and team mates from other countries.
This sport gives a greater vision for a diplomacy of the future than even the Olympic Games which presumably represents a multinational celebration in a world at peace. However, in spite of Olympic ideals, victory and the medal count feed nationalistic pride and competition to a greater extent than does respect for the efforts of all athletes and all nations. National politics is always lurking in the background as the party-crasher at the Olympic Games.
As a metaphor for the challenges facing our contemporary world, the Tour de France is an apt event calling for the utmost from all participants and sponsors. The honor and respect in the Tour come from the realization that all participants are facing the same obstacles and demands. Is this not also so in our increasingly interdependent world? Global warming. polluted air and water, and ethnic and religious hatreds affect all peoples. We are all in the same race for survival and ultimately for a happy life. What is missing in this global "race of life" is the sense of camaraderie facing these challenges due to political, economic and nationalistic greed and fear.
Diplomacy to the extent demonstrated by the athletes in the Tour de France is almost non-existent in the halls of politics, especially amongst the most powerful. If Lance Armstrong or his most close rivals demonstrated the arrogance of their power over sportsmanship and the honor of the sport, they would not be admired by the public or their fellow athletes even in victory. Why is the great and victorious multi-cultural nation of the United States so widely disrespected throughout the world at this time, with allies only from the ranks of the bought and bribed?
core values of diplomacy are honor, trust, mutual respect, a feeling
of common ground and teamwork. Why not look to one of the great international
sporting events in the world for a model of that sort of diplomacy in
action? In the Tour de France the stakes are very high both for the
participating cyclists and their sponsors. Nevertheless the integrity,
popularity and longevity of this event are based on the code of honor
in this test of endurance. It has endured the recent test of a doping
scandal because no one would stand for an athlete from any country who
would put victory over honesty in sport. The present United States administration
would do well to abandon the politics of suspicion, deception, unilateralism
and dominion in favor of those qualities shown by Lance Armstrong and
his fellow racers who in victory or defeat stand as proud examples of
diplomacy in their quest for success.
© 2003 Richard Sidy