Olympic Ideals

It’s easy to knock sport. Huff and puff, crass commercialism even corruption. But sport can also be pure human expression, ballet, drama and gladiatorial combat – sometimes all rolled into one. The Greeks knew this.

This morning I had a speech to do, at the British Museum, to school pupils and teachers from 29 countries all around the world. From Mongolia, the disputed border regions of northern India, Gaza as well as all over the UK – from Northern Ireland to the Shetland Isles.

They are following 29 very different athletes en route to London 2012. The UK schools are twinned with the international schools that 100m sprint star Usain Bolt went to as a kid, as well as less well know prospective Olympians like India’s best female boxer.

Looking for something to say, I came across Pierre de Coubertins’s Olympic values, first set out in 1894. I’m a great believer in ‘founding moments’. If you want to see the best of what human beings are capable of, the founding moments of great institutions are a good place to start.

And if professional sport – especially football – is eating itself, there is something transcendent and timeless about the Olympic values which is worth hanging onto. As I said to the 150+ pupils and teachers from all around the world, if we can’t all run like the wind or win a Gold Medal, we can all aspire to the Olympic values:

Respect – fair play; knowing your own limits; and taking care of yourself and the environment.

Excellence – taking part and giving your best in your sport and your life.

and Friendship – how, through sport especially, to understand each other despite any differences.

They feel as fresh and relevant today as they were in 1894.

2 thoughts on “Olympic Ideals

  1. That was great advice to share with the pupils!

    The value of Friendship really stuck out with me. It reminds me of how people say music is a language understood by all. I kind of feel like sports are similar. I am a former athlete myself and I could watch sports in any country and be amazed and inspired.
    The Olympics are the perfect venues for showing the rest of the world that despite our differences and language barriers, the world can come together and do amazing things.

    I hope to get to an event in London next year (fingers crossed).

    1. I think you’re 100% right travelingmad, there are some ‘languages’ which transcend actual language: music, sport, dance, art spring to mind. And they give you an ‘in’ and something to connect with even if you can’t speak someone else’s lingo. I’ve got excited about football with Iraqis, weightlifting with Iranians, wrestling with Bulgarians and ballet with Russians, often with little or no vocabulary. Some places can feel very alien, but sport is one of the universal languages. Thanks for the comment.

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