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The IOC Commission for Olympic Education and its vision
I have been asked to talk about the IOC’s Olympic Education Commission, its purpose and its vision. Before I do so, I need to set a personal context around my presentation.
First and foremost I am an educator. I would describe my style as that of a pragmatist rather than an academic.
I had thirty years as a secondary school teacher; fifteen of those as a school Principal, before being attracted into the Olympic Movement, by taking up the position of Secretary General of the New Zealand Olympic Committee ...a position I held for ten years. I was then elected as a member in my own right, onto the IOC, where I have been a member since 2010.
This all followed my previous sporting career as a member of the NZ field hockey team, being selected for four Olympic Games, (1968-80) culminating in a Gold medal win in Montreal in 1976.
During my twelve years of sporting engagement with the Olympic Games as an athlete, I learnt very little about the Olympic Movement...its history, or its philosophy. I was simply focussed on doing all I could do, to compete successfully at the highest level of my sport, and nothing was going to get in the way of that focus. It was only years later when I was actually leading a school, and reflecting back on my personal Olympic experiences, that I was clearly able to put education and sport together in a very logical and meaningful way. The link between the two is utterly compatible, and compelling. Always education before sport.
I became very interested in studying and understanding the full “Olympic story”. In doing so, I came to realise the essential link between Olympism and my school objectives. I would contend that that close link applies to any school, anywhere.
Olympism is a word that so many people in our movement struggle to either pronounce, understand, or use correctly. My modern computer indicates to me, by red underlining, that it’s a misspelt word! It tries to tell me I mean “Olympics”!! That’s a problem... we even have modern technology working against us! Many people simply equate Olympism directly with “Olympic values” which it is not. If I was to ask all 100 of my fellow IOC members, or the 400 plus IOC staff, to write down exactly what they understood by the word “Olympism”, or define the Olympic values, I contend that would produce a wide variety of “interpretations”. I would hope this audience would get much closer to a consistent response.
To me, it’s not a complex proposition.
Olympism is simply a philosophy of life,... a way of life initiated by de Coubertin, on the basis of his extensive study of the ancient Greeks, and the ancient Olympic Games. As a good educator and philosopher, he proposed the modern Olympic Games essentially to foster Olympism. He actually wanted the Games to achieve four specific objectives for young people’s life development.
He wanted the Games:
1. To develop the whole person...their body, their mind, and their will;
2. To promote the joy of effort...the sheer elation of striving to being the best you can be;
3. To use sport to develop good role models;
4. To grow an understanding of, and adherence to, the universal ethical values of excellence, tolerance, respect, friendship, and what we might call today, fair play, or drug free sport.
When I reflect on how I led my school for fifteen years, I realise that almost subconsciously, instinctively, I was following de Coubertin’s lead in creating the school culture around Olympism.
1. Body mind and will...... What school ever sets out to do any other than develop every youngster’s physical, mental and character traits to the highest degree possible.
2. Joy of effort... Schools always try to get learners to be the very best they can be in everything they do, and to celebrate and reward their joy in doing so. The rewards of striving.
3. Role models..... What school leader doesn’t use student role models in their schools as prefects and student leaders in a whole variety of leadership responsibilities, to encourage them in their personal growth and to inspire, lead and organise their younger fellow students.
4. The ethical framework....yes that’s the real Olympic values and yes they are a part of Olympism. These are the basic “life skills” we try to promote in our schools students, (although they are appropriate for all people)...namely excellence, tolerance, respect friendship, and playing by the rules. If we succeed in that, we will have helped to make them better citizens, regardless of what career path or lifestyle they choose. Olympism truly is... “a school for life”.
We should note that 99% of our young people in our schools can never be Olympians. They may want to be, but they may not have the genes, the physiology, the interest, the money, or the opportunity to ever be an Olympian. If our focus in the Olympic Movement is just on the Olympic Games (which for many is the case... and it’s easy to be lured into this thinking), then our movement risks becoming elite and irrelevant to most young people. Olympism and the Olympic Movement has to be relevant to the 100% of youth, not the 1%.
Saying that, is not, in any way, meant to downplay the power, the inspiration, the aspiration which the Olympic Games invokes. It certainly changed my life for the good, by pushing me mentally and physically to the ultimate test, by growing my life’s experience, exposing me to good and bad role models. It also opened doors of professional opportunity for me, for which I shall be forever grateful. It is a unique event in many ways. 206 nations living together in one village, and playing sport in the most competitive environment, without rancour, and under one set of rules! Politicians can only dream of achieving such universal unity. It’s no wonder they all want to attend the opening ceremony to be a part of it.
So where does the Olympic Education Commission fit in to all this. Why does it exist? ... what’s its vision? ... and is it effective?
First thing you have to understand is that it is the IOC Executive Board, and to a lesser extent, the members sessions, where the policy and direction of the IOC is determined.
Outside of these groups, sits the many and varied Olympic Commissions.
The composition of the Commissions is determined by the President, who tries to align members, with commissions that match their skills and interests. There are many non IOC members on Commissions, brought on because of their known skills and experience, or to ensure geographical or gender balance. All commissions work closely with the relevant IOC staff, but report to the Executive Board in the first instance. Because many of them are quite large in number, and may meet formally just one day/year, it’s obviously important for the chairperson especially, to work closely with IOC staff throughout the year, to help set priorities and develop an action plan to provide focus throughout their year. As chairman of the Education Commission, I meet with the IOC education staff quite regularly to discuss progress and be a “sounding board” for their daily work.
Sceptics may suggest IOC Commissions are merely a sop to those involved, to give them an easy “buy in” to the Olympic Movement, and to make them think they are actively making important decisions on the direction of the movement. It is true I often wish there were just 10-12 people around the table rather than 22-24.
But I do believe that our education commission of 24 members, consisting of IOC members, educators, athletes, IF and NOC representatives, provides a real cross section of educational insights and settings, that makes us all better informed, and leads to better decision making. I believe we can and do have influence, and can make a difference.
The Mission statement of the IOC Education Commission is to:
“Advise the IOC on the promotion of Olympic values based education, and provide strategic direction on IOC programmes and activities related to the education of youth through sport”
Such strategic direction is currently centred around five areas of work
1. Advocacy for quality PE/sport/values based education being integrated into school curricula;
2. Utilisation of multiple communication channels to disseminate Olympic Values Education;
3. Ensuring best practice delivery models, and teacher resources for OVEP;
4. Integration of Olympic values education into all IOC properties and partner programmes such as the athlete career programme, YOGs and OCOGs, WADA, NOA’s and TOP partners;
5. Optimising strategic partnerships with IOC recognised organisations, (such as UNHCR, and MINEPS) and international sport development programmes.
That is a fairly visionary list of expectations, across a wide spectrum of endeavour.
Many people think of Olympic education as education about the Olympic Games... its history, its current issues such as professionalism, size, commercialisation, drugs, and education about the sports on the Games programme. Games organising committees tend to focus on this, and there’s nothing wrong with this at all. It’s interesting, and students relate easily to it.
But the Olympic values education we in the commission are focussed on, is about Olympism, its philosophy and values, learning values and skills through playing, and developing sustainable life skills. Our’ bible’....the Olympic Charter...makes this clear in the first paragraph on page 1. It reads:
“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world, by educating youth through sport, practised in accordance with Olympism and its values”
I tell you, as an Olympic Gold medallist, and someone who has been motivated and inspired by personally attending some fourteen Olympic Games in various capacities, it is this Charter expectation that really now “spins my wheels”, and encourages me to keep working in Olympic education, in the belief that it can actually influence the life pathway of young people.
Idealistic? Naive? I’m happy to be challenged.
Having spent most of my life around young people (I taught Science and coached hockey at schools for some 28 years) I am reminded every day that the attitudes we bring to youngsters through sport, sets the standards and expectations we set for young peoples’ lives.
Rugby is strong in our country, and what the All Blacks coach says is listened to. When the previous ABs coach Graeme Henry said “Better people make better All Blacks” he was in fact saying in as many words, that Olympism matters. I agree fully with him, and have adopted that mantra in all the teams I have coached.
In all our New Zealand Olympic teams of today, we make a real effort around the Games to formally and meaningfully engage with the indigenous peoples of the host country. Why?
It’s respect first and foremost to the hosts, but it also serves to grow the tolerance and understanding of the athletes as part of their Games experience.
At the 2004 Olympic Games we took the whole New Zealand team to the New Zealand war cemetery here in Athens, where 100s of young New Zealanders who fought and died in Greece in the great war, are buried. It is a beautiful and moving place, full of significance for our country, and I can say there wasn’t one of our young athletes who wasn’t moved, some to tears. Why did we do that? Respect to our forebears, and growing the knowledge and understanding of the young athletes. Getting sport into perspective. Olympism in action.
It will further help your understanding of the Commission if I tell you of six specific initiatives we are currently working on, with a fully engaged IOC education staff.
1. Growing the understanding of Olympism and Olympic education inside the movement. We are looking to provide a simple “desk card” with an Olympism “definition” and an outline of Olympic education objectives for all members and staff.
2. Expanding the international spread, usability and translation of our flagship OVEP programme, while further developing resources to assist its implementation.
3. Developing a data base of every tertiary institution in the world that offers courses of study in Olympic education, in an attempt to make it easier for prospective learners to know of and compare, Olympic study options on offer around the world.
4. Developing an Olympic values education “action plan” in the form of a grid, with three headings across the top... Learning through playing sport, Olympic values, and Life skills, (the WHAT we do), each matched against three other factors down the side... schools and active youth, Champions and ambassadors, and influence and partnerships (the HOW we do it). It is a comprehensive cross matching action grid with specific outcomes proposed for each match.
5. Carrying out a complete “education landscape” review, looking at all the areas within the IOC where Olympic education work is being carried out. The view is both to know what is being done by whom, to ensure consistent messages are being conveyed, and to promote efficiencies and monitor overlaps.
6. Promoting the idea of every NOC being required to have an education/cultural ambassador.... a person within every NOC with particular responsibility for Olympic values, and cultural education. In the case of those NOCs with an Olympic academy fully attached to their NOC, this NOA could well assume this ambassador role.
This rationale for this last idea is to ensure NOCs meet their Olympic charter responsibility as set out below. We are planning to have an international conference of these education/cultural ambassadors next year, to empower them to ensure their NOCs are carrying out their core purpose as defined in the Olympic Charter, where it says:
“The NOC’s role is to promote the fundamental principles and values of Olympism in their countries, in particular in the fields of sport and education, by promoting Olympic educational programmes in schools, physical education institutions, and universities, as well as by encouraging institutions dedicated to Olympic education such as NOAs, Olympic museums, and cultural programmes related to the Olympic Movement”
It’s really clear...but what proportion of NOCs would do this effectively?...or at all? How many have an education strand in their strategic plan? We would like the IOC be more insistent on NOCs doing what they are obliged under the Charter to do. Many NOCs will claim they are preoccupied with selecting, preparing and managing their countries Games teams, as the ‘out of control international Games proliferation’ continues unchecked. But life is about prioritising. Should their focus be just on their small number of elite Games athletes, or on influencing the attitudes and behaviours of all their young people. Both are important, and both are possible.
One of my other roles in the Olympic Movement is representing the IOC on the WADA Education Committee. It was very interesting at our recent meeting to spend most of our time on the development of an “International Standard for anti doping Education”. Discussion centred on the need to develop comprehensive values based education programmes in schools, for the reason that research has shown that “effective values based education at an early age, isdeemed to be the best preventer of drug involvement later in their adult sporting life”.
Powerful stuff. We should be shouting that from the rooftops. It is saying that it is better for WADA to prioritise investing in values based education programmes for all youth, rather than chasing and sanctioning drug cheats in elite athletes in later life. It is obviously important that IOC and WADA cooperate fully in this common belief and endeavour, and our commission will certainly be promoting this.
In the world of Olympic sport, we produce both Winners and Champions, and it is important we all understand the difference.
A winner wins the event.
A champion wins the event ...AND in addition, displays the Olympic values of excellence, tolerance, respect and fair play. Champions don’t make excuses when they lose an event. The Champions are our role models. Roger Federer is, by any measure, a Champion in my eyes.
These “events” don’t need to be just sporting ones. Champions can be developed in any field of endeavour. Champions in life. The Olympic values are available to everyone. Let’s be reminded, de Coubertin recreated the modern Olympic Games to essentially “develop people...through sport”. He wanted the Games to promote his much wider philosophical vision of Olympism. Hebelieved we could have a much better global society if we succeeded in developing more Champions than Winners.... in sport and in life.
This is fundamentally what the Olympic education commission is trying to do.
Maister Barry, "The IOC Commission for Olympic Education and its vision", in: K. Georgiadis (ed.), Challenges an Olympic Athlete faces as a Role Model, 58th International Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia, 16-30/6/2018), International Olympic Academy, Athens, 2019, pp. 55-63.