When Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, received the coveted Olympic Laurel award at the opening ceremony of the 32nd Games of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, organized under the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic with no audience on the ground, his motherland in South Asia incorporated its name in the history of the Olympics
When Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, received the coveted Olympic Laurel award at the opening ceremony of the 32nd Games of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, organized under the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic with no audience on the ground, his motherland in South Asia incorporated its name in the history of the Olympics.
Athletes from Bangladesh may not have won a medal at the Olympics to date, but millions of Bangladeshis found a reason this time to celebrate when Prof Yunus appeared on the digital screen with the glittering trophy to become the second awardee, definitely the first Asian, after Kenyan Olympian Kip Keino in 2016.
Billions of sports enthusiasts across the globe witnessed the moment when the creator of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh was honoured with the award virtually - as Prof Yunus did not visit Japan due to the pandemic - at the restricted opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I am honoured and overwhelmed to receive this Olympic award, which is so special to me and my country,” said the economist-turned-revolutionary banker-turned social entrepreneur who mentors Yunus Centre, a global hub of social business, highlighting its mission to create sustainable social enterprises, not just for profit, but to solve people's problems.
Speaking from Dhaka, the soft-spoken economist appreciated the International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s gesture and wished success to its mission to promote harmonious co-existence across the world through the Olympic movement and sports.
Prof Yunus reiterated the pledge to create a world of three zeros, comprising nil carbon emission, nil wealth concentration to end poverty and once for all, and nil unemployment by unleashing the power of entrepreneurship in everyone.
Initiated by the IOC to honour outstanding individuals for their achievements in education, culture, development and peace through sports, the Olympic Laurel is intended to honour awardees at the opening ceremony of each summer Olympics, where social changemaker Keino was honoured at the start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Bangladesh, a country of over 170 million population, has never succeeded in the Olympic battles for medals. It used to send their representatives to the summer editions of the Olympic Games mostly with wildcard entries. In Tokyo, six athletes, under the banner of the Bangladesh Olympic Association, are participating in a few disciplines.
The innovative Bangladeshi banker, who made small loans available to the poorest of the poor without any collateral, was selected for the honour for his extensive works in sport for development, including founding the Yunus Sports Hub, a global social business network that creates solutions through sport.
Prof Yunus also collaborated with the IOC on several projects, including educational elements of the IOC young leader’s program focusing on human development through peace and sport. He not only shares the wealth of knowledge with the Olympic community but also helps athletes in their post-sport career development to become socially responsible entrepreneurs.
IOC President Thomas Bach said that Prof Yunus, a recipient of numerous international awards for his ideas and endeavours, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, remains a great inspiration for all sharing the vision of how sport can contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Born in 1940 to a middle-class businessman’s family in the port city of Chittagong (now Chattogram), Prof Yunus studied in Chattogram and Dhaka and then reached Vanderbilt University in the US with a Fulbright scholarship to pursue higher study on economics. He received his PhD in economics in 1969, and after some years teaching there the young Bangladeshi scholar returned to his country in 1972, just one year after Bangladesh was born.
“Sport brings all human strengths and emotions into play. That gives it enormous power,” said the octagenarian visionary, adding that the Olympics unites the entire world in peaceful competition, celebrating unity in diversity. If we embrace a new social and environmental awareness, where the economy is not a mere science, but a tool to optimise the potentiality of individuals, "we can create a new world", he said. (SAM)