Critical Review (MSM)


Innumerable different works have treated the Olympic movement with varied levels of insight and from a wide variety of academic disciplines. During the 13th Post Graduate Seminar on Olympic Studies we have become familiar with these different historical, philosophical, and economic methods of examining this quadrennial sporting mega event. One of the reasons for the wide recognition of the Olympic Games is the philosophical basis of the movement – Olympism. Olympism is described in the Olympic Charter – a concept that touches upon the values of internationalism, equality, peace and universalism.

Particpating in this seminar has provided me with a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of Olympism, the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement. In many ways, the postgraduate seminar was a natural progression in my study of Olympism as my previous study of the topic was at the 43rd International Youth Session held at the International Olympic Academy in 2003. Besides the obvious benefits gained from the academic lectures, the seminar has also provided me with an interesting offbeat into different cultures of my fellow students while silmultaneously introducing me to various alternative views on sport and Olympism. This has given me a broader framework in which to conduct my future studies in the area of ‘Olympic Education’ – the concept of education through sport.

However , it is important to note that the specific focus of this review is not to examine every topic of the seminar in consecutive detail. Rather, I intend to highlight some of the key features of both the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games which I found to be of particular interest. Furthermore, I will allude to some of the similarities between the ancient and modern games. Finally, there will be an assessment of the future of Olympic Education while providing a brief analysis of the concept of ’sports for all’ and the Olympic Truce.

Ancient Olympic Games

As a ‘non-historian’ with a specific interest in Olympic Education and the values of sport and physical activity, the first week of the seminar was extremely interesting as the lectures were primarily concerned with the Ancient Olympic Games. This provided me with a fascinating insight into the historical roots of the games. As I will mention later, there are many similarities between sport in modern times and sport in ancient civilisation. In my view, the main difference between the ancient and modern games is that sport in the modern period is seen a major social phenomenon. By contrast, the games in ancient Greece were recognised merely as a part of a process in the cultivation of the male physique and mind, and as a means of honouring the Gods. From the lectures, I have also become aware that the reputed ‘birth’ of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC still remains a point of historical conjecture and that other archaelogical sources suggest that other specific dates might be more accurate. Every year new material is brought to light, revealing deeper insights into the life and culture of ancient Greece. That is why I shall keep an open mind to the various opinions and debates that I read and heard over the last month. The designs of the various ancient stadia also added another percpective to my previous knowledge, provoking questions on how the development of sportification has influenced both the development of sports arenas and the discipline of both the participants and the spectators. Furthermore, I have gained new knowlegde about the various other games held in Istmia, Nemea and Delphi. Even though I spent one full year studying classical civilization in upper secondary school I had never come across any of these four ancient festivals. The ‘trip’ back into the mists time and the various tours to the ancient sites aided my understanding of the philosophical and religious roots of these games and their relevance for the athletes involved.

Modern Olympic Games

Professor Karl Lennatz and Professor Kostas Georgiadis delivered a variety of lectures on the revival of the Olympic Games in the late 18th – 19th century. They rightly attrributed Baron Pierre de Coubtertin with the credit for reviving the Olympic Movement but they were also careful to point out that he is often wrongly described as a lonely pioneer in the promotion of Olympic sport. True, the formation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Games is conventionally attributed to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, but it should also be borne in mind that Coubertin was, as Professor Kostas Georgiadis succinctly observed, an educationalist inspired by English public school tradition where sport was used as a mean to develop physical and moral strength as well as human character. Through correspondence with other contemporary educationalists and numerous visits to England he became familiar with another attempt to establish a national sporting festival. Indeed, William Penny Brooks would prove to be a great inspiration for Coubertin. The games at Much Wenlock organized by William Penny Brooks (held for first time in 1852), in particular, became an inspiration for Coubertin. Coubertin now set out to implement some of his ideas and iniatiate a similar type of games in Greece.

Another inspiration for Coubertin was the Zappa Games. This was a kind of national Olympic Games held four times in Greece between 1859 – 1889. However, sport at this time was the preserve of the upper class. Similarily, physical education was not particularly prevalent. Indeed, the most developed physical traditions were the different forms of gymnastics (turnen) found in Germany, Sweden and to some extent, Denmark (Guthmuth, Ling, Nachtegall). Modern sport, as we know it today, originated in Victorian Britain and the spread to other countries of the world, partly as result of British imperialism.

In 1894, Coubertin, on his own initiative, held an international forum for development of sport. I have highlighted ‘international’ because it was Coubertin who introduced the idea to make the games international. Although Coubertin may not have been the first man to foster the ancient idea of a big sports event encompassing a wide range of different sports and cultures, it seems plausible to argue that Coubertin was the first person to make the games truly international. It also seems reasonable to surmise that one of the reasons the revival of the Modern Olympic Games was a success was partly due to the fact that Coubertin connected the modern practice of sport with the ancient Greek traditions, which were also flourishing at that time. By making that connection, Coubertin cleverly secured the support of the Western aristocrats. However, I do not see the Modern Olympic Games as an revival of the Ancient Olympic Games. Rather, I prefer to see the development of the Modern Olympic Games as a wider reflection of the globalisation and expansion of sport, a process partly due to the development of technology and increased leisure time, while cleverly infiltrated with some of the ideals rooted in ancient Greek tradition.

Sport as a tool for Truce and Sports for All

As illustrated in the International Olympic Truce session, sport has been used for decades as a tool for peace and education. The Olympic Truce Foundation found its genesis in the games of the ancient period where there was reputedly a truce held during the games. However, even the members of the Olympic Truce Foundation observed that they were not always sucessful in their endeavours to convince everybody to make peace during the games. Today, the reason for having the truce during the Games is different from ancient times. The delegated people from National Olympic Committees in warring countries described sport as a necessary tool in the process of the peace and reconcilation and as a means for educating their children. One of the presentations delivered by one of my fellow students was not about the Olympic Truce – but about sport as a tool for education. Like the lady from Burundi at the Truce session, Cynthia made it clear that the concept of ‘Sport for All’ is useful but without providing them with a water supply or an opportunity of educating their children, these countries will not develop and make peace. I have never heard about the concept of ‘Sports for All’ before I arrived in Olympia. Although I have some reservations about this idea, I agree that everybody should have the chance to participate in sports. Professor Alberto Reppold showed us that there is vast inequality in the cities of Brazil. The rapid sprawl of urbanisation has ensured that there is only a few places for people to participate in sport. Due to the constraints of work, much of the populace do not enjoy the prerequisite leisure time in order to enjoy an active participation in sporting activity. In particular, women and the elderly are deprived from participation in sports, because the facilities for sports are primarily male exlcusive, while the place of women in society is generally rooted in domestic duties. Moreover, the sports facilities are often not adequate for elderly people and quite frequently, the facilities are located in the outskirts of the cities. It would take approximately one hour for some inhabitants to travel to these sports facilities which is often too far for some elderly people.

Olympic Education

Many of my fellow students have talked about Olympic Education and education though Sport. I think it is important that we educate the Physical Education students in Universities and teacher training colleges about the development of the Modern Olympic Games, The Olympic Movement and Olympism. However, I think we must be very careful in the way we present it. I do agree with the values of Olympism, but I think there are many different words that are equally persuasive in describing the values of sport. From my point of view, Coubertin’s Olympism is a wonderful avenue in which to describe the intrinsic and practical values inherent in sport by using one word. This is not to suggest that we should promote Olympism as a religion. As I mention later in the review, sport can be used an useful tool but this does not suggest that sport is a form of religion.

In my opinion, it is very important to teach children the values of sport. I am of that view that while participating in sports you learn how to interact with others – a skill that will also help you outside the realms of the sports field. This is one of the practical values of sport, a value which Sigmund Loland describes in Norwegian as nytteværdi. Here, Loland suggests that the game itself does not have any major importance for everyday life. It is the practical values that derive from participation in sport which are beneficial both in the context of education and how people interact in society. The result of a sporting contest itself do not affect everyday life in a society. Apart the social and psychological advantages of sport, there are also physiological benefits which are deemed very important especially in the Western world. In my opinion, Olympic Education should not only consider the history of the Olympic Games and Olympism, It should also include physiology as well.

Health is created and lived by people within the settings of their everyday life; where they learn, work, play and love. Health is created by caring for oneself and others, by being able to take decisions and have control over one’s life circumstances, and by ensuring that the society one lives in creates conditions that allow the attainment of health by all its members. [Ottawa Charter, 1986].

As quoted in the World Health Organisation’s Ottawa Charter, healthy living is based on social, mental and physical health. In Denmark, the physical education program for children in municipal primary and secondary schools should be revised or at least expanded so that it not only focuses on teaching the children how to play different sports but also to educate them about the benefits of participation and involvement in sport. The Danish educational curriculum does not embrace Olympic Education at all. I think this is partly due to the elite manner in which the Olympic Movement has been introduced to the Danish population. Indeed, it is plausible to argue that the typical Dane will connect the Olympic Movement with elite sport – an exclusive discourse which has nothing to do with their every day life. If they were to become interested in the obvious benefits of participating in sports, it is important that we give them a sense of belonging in this process. Therefore, it is imperative for us to include the nation’s cultural background. Otherwise we will never succeed in educating a country’s inhabitants through sport.

As a closing comment – I feel very privileged to have participated in this seminar. The wide range of topics that have been discussed during the seminar have provided me with a more complex understanding of the Olympic Movement. I am greatly indebted to my fellow students and to the supervising professors for providing me a unique Olympic experience and for helping me acquire knowledge on an academic as well as a human front.

9 June 2005
Marianne Stolberg Mølgaard
International Olympic Academy, Olympia, Greece

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