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August 29, 2016

What should be said about the Olympics? They are the world's greatest sports spectacle. Nothing else comes close. Inspired athletic performances, both victorious and heart-breaking, are around every corner. Canadians, for example, were exhilarated over Penny Oleksiak's stunning performances in the pool.

Yet, a blind eye should not be turned to the never-ending trail of doping scandals, endemic bribery in the host selection process and monumental waste of money by hosting countries that build fabulous facilities, some of which will rarely be used once the Games are over. Televised performances of the Olympics thrill hundreds of millions of people, but to gain admittance to the Games themselves, one must be wealthy or well connected.

To its credit, the International Olympic Committee has gone a great distance to prevent the recurrence of scandals which have plagued the Games' recent history. But allegations have emerged that Tokyo's winning bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics was tainted by bribery. The Russian government's theft of urine samples of its athletes shows that attempts to cheat are ever at the door.

Pope Francis has urged that global solidarity be seen as more important than Olympic medals. He calls on us to pray that international sports contribute to world peace.

Prayer is certainly needed to accomplish that which seems only a pious hope. Solidarity is a joke when some nations cheat so that they attain Olympic glory at the expense of other nations' athletes.

World peace? That was not on Hitler's mind when he staged the 1936 Olympics to demonstrate the superiority of his countrymen and women. Since then, the Olympics have never been free of politics - the Munich terrorist attack and the boycotts of the Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics being only the most flagrant violations.

All of this is tolerated because of the marvel of the Games themselves. If the Olympics were abolished, people around the world would feel cheated. The Olympics, despite their faults, exhibit the greatness, even the transcendent nature, of the human spirit. Rejoicing in the triumph of others can be, in fact, a taste of heaven.

However, the effort to bring the dark side of the Olympics to heel must continue unabated. One positive suggestion is to hold the Games in the same location every four years, perhaps in Greece. Doing so should end the bribery connected with hosting the event as well as the incredible waste of building massive infrastructure every four years.

It may be a fantasy to believe politics can be exorcised from the Olympics. Yet, without the Olympics, would the world ever recognize the athlete from an impoverished nation who achieves greatness by training without decent facilities and with no encouragement but a dream? May the Games continue, but on a human scale with the darkness haunting them pushed ever further into the past.