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.