Tuesday, 31 July 2012

This is my post about the Olympic Games.

One of the things I really like about the Olympic Games (or the 'Lympics as they tend to be referred to here) is that they inspire thoughtful discussion and examination of the place of sport in daily and national life.  They also raise questions of character (individual and national), resilience and leadership.

Sport is a great analogy for many things in life.  Having the elite athletes from different countries collected together for the duration of the Games creates a hothouse where all kinds of behaviour is on display.  We can see everything.

Today while planning a workshop session, the person I was in discussion with mentioned positive psychology as an important thread in his work.  He emphasised the need to create a positive mindset where people first congratulate themselves for the things they are doing well, before examining the areas which need work.  This resonates so strongly with me and I see examples of the default setting being negative everywhere.

I responded with the story of Olympic reporting on the now notorious loss of the Australian Men's swimming relay team who went into the event as a certainty for a gold medal.  We all now know that the team swam fourth in the final.  This means they swam the fourth fastest time of the fastest eight teams in the world!  That's pretty fast, from where I stand.  The commentator was being interviewed by the show's anchor (this is what happens when the use of footage is so restricted for broadcasters who don't hold the broadcast rights).  The conversation between the two men was focussed on Australia's "loss" and "failure" for about three minutes.  Having exhausted the criticism, the commentator then highlighted that there had been some good news in the pool on the same night - a silver and a bronze medal had been won by other swimmers.  Discussion on these wins was so limited that I can't even tell you who won the medals!

In the following days the men's relay swimming team - and the individuals in it - have been the subject of endless dissection, criticism and analysis.  In these days of elitism and money in sport, the Olympic ideals seem to have been diluted.  As I think about this it occurs to me that I don't really know what the Olympic ideals are.  If pushed I could probably come up with some fuzzy statements about bringing the world together in peace, using sport as a unifier to celebrate athletic achievement.  I'd throw around words like "sportsmanship" and "fair play" and "development".

I went in search of what the Olympic ideals actually are.  You can find them on the Olympic website under the tab called "Olympism".  The whole charter is available to download.

On page ten, you can find these "Fundamental Principles of Olympism":

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

3. The Olympic Movement is the concerted, organised, universal and permanent action, carried out under the supreme authority of the IOC, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world’s athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games. Its symbol is five interlaced rings.

4. The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

5. Recognising that sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organisations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.

6. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

7. Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC.

My heart sings when I read these!  What a wonderful, lofty and optimistic set of ideals.  I particularly like the description of the Olympic Games as "the great sports festival" in point three.  It's not described as a contest or a competition.  "Festival" sounds like a celebration and an experience to be enjoyed.

I reckon representing your country at the Olympic Games is a huge achievement and an honour.  Winning a medal is the cream on top.  I know that every athlete would be setting out to win, but there can only be three place getters - I hardly think everyone else in the field is a loser.

(Even as I write, the introductory line in a story on the radio news was "James Magnusson has the opportunity to move on from his disappointment in the pool tonight..." Why does what a champion swimmer is about to do have to be framed in terms of their previous "failure".)

Last night's panel on Q&A contained athletes from a variety of sports and the conversation was excellent - measured, intelligent and thoughtful.  The panellists were asked about all kinds of things and this prompted a discussion about athletes as role models.  A question was posed about whether it's appropriate for an athlete to have a political agenda.  I was surprised!  Surely every human being has a political agenda, even if they don't call it that.  Why should a sports person be precluded from being an agent for change or good in their community?

All of the social considerations aside, I love the Olympic Games.  I discover obscure sports and become an expert on the technicalities of these sports. I'm not a big sports watcher generally, but I'll watch the Olympics when I can.  The medal ceremonies undo me!  I cry the minute the flag goes up and the national anthem starts playing.  There's something about the pride, joy and sense of achievement (and perhaps relief) that the athletes show.

It's very lucky I'm not an Olympic athlete.  I don't know how I'd cope.  I'd spend the whole time crying.  But at least I'd have Kleenex tissues as a major sponsor!

I'm off to see when the fencing, equestrian eventing or clay target shooting is on.

Are you watching the Olympics?  What's your favourite sport to watch?  Do you think the spirit of Olympism is alive and well?
As I contemplate renewing my commitment to divacultura for another year, I feel excitement and affection.  Thank you for sharing some of your time with me. As a thank you gift - and so I can gain a better sense of who's out there - I'll be giving away a pair of my hand knitted socks to two very lucky readers, where ever you are in the world (ie two readers will receive a pair of socks each).  To be in the running, leave a comment on this post by Friday 17 August 2012, stating why you like reading divacultura. My favourite responses will receive the prize (my decision is final).  Why not take the opportunity to sign up and follow too!


  1. I saw a spot of synchronised diving the other day. So graceful. So awesome. And a little of the cross country equestrian.

    I find it frustrating that we don't get to choose what sports we get to see on the tv coverage. The swimming victories and failures are shown over and over again. I would love to see more of the 'pretty' sports like the diving, gymnastics and dressage. Not so exciting but the control and skill is fantastic.

    1. I think the synchronised diving is fantastic too! It's amazing to watch. I enjoyed some of the rowing last night - there were some great contests and I wasn't even watching the finals. I agree with you about the way it's being broadcast on free to air. I wonder if it's better on pay tv?