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Τhe reinforcement of olympism through youth
Τhe reinforcement of olympism through youth
Thank you very much, President Kouvelos, for your invitation. I have been here many times before and spoke to young people like you, to directors, to Olympians. I have been here to organise meetings of the IOC Commission on Culture and Olympic Education and a high profile International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development. I have not attended a board meeting of the Ephoria though and it has always surprised me that the President and his colleagues have not invoked the rules which requires that they throw me out for not attending a certain number of meetings. That said, the difference between all those long trips here, and I need not educate you about that, is that there is something that makes this address toyou today particularly significant for me. It is my valedictory speech. After ten years at the helm of one of the most challenging jobs in the world of sport I should be stepping down soon to allow for a younger person with new, bright ideas to take over. Mr President, I would be happy to collect CVs from your participants at the end of my visit.
Let me also tell you about something else that makes this visit special for me. Two nights ago I was honored by President Kouvelos, on behalf of the IOA, supposedly for services to the IOA. I say supposedly because, as I said on receiving the award, there were many other people not there that night who had done more than I did and who deserved the honour. But I will also tell you about other real heroes of the revival of the IOA and its sustainability who deserve a gold medal. Mr Kouvelos, its President, and the hardworking, dedicated staff and volunteers of this institution. Over the past ten years, my department has been responsible for managing relations between the IOA and the IOC. I came to the IOC during the good times of economic growth and of exciting preparations for the Athens Olympic Games. Three or so years ago, the bottom fell out. The whole world was going through an economic meltdown. Greece was not spared. The IOA did not feature in the scheme of things that the government had to save. There was nothing but storm clouds ahead. In our hearts we felt that we just might have been seeing the end of this wonderful institution, the only one mentioned in the Olympic Charter in terms of its contribution to Olympism.
Under your leadership, Mr President, the IOA has survived. It has survived the raging bush fires that devastated the greenery of the surrounding areas and threatened the very structures of this place. Budgets are tight but the future of this institution is certainly secure. Thank you Mr President. May I dare say that this is gratitude well shared by all the participants here today and the Olympic Movement as a whole. Kindly convey our thanks to the staff and to the volunteers as well as the Ephoria and the Hellenic Olympic Committee.
Coming to Olympia, the birth place of the Olympic Games, is always a pilgrimage. We come here to be awed by the impact of an ideal that came to the mind of man thousands of years ago. An ideal that was as relevant then, thousands of years ago, as it is today and will continue to be long after all of us have said our good byes to this world. We come here to continuously renew our faith in that ideal, that of peace in its original form as it was conceived by the originators of the Olympic Games in 776BC. We come here to learn and to feel history, to be part of history and to live history. We come to Elis to pay homage not only to Pierre de Coubertin the man but to Zeus, the god in whose honour the Games were conceived. We come here to understand the Greeks, their history, their culture. Just as important, we come here to reflect on ourselves, our own contribution to sport and its values, to learn and to share and be ourselves.
We come here to feel and digest the vision of one man, Pierre de Coubertin, a very young man then, whose dream it was to resuscitate the Olympic Games not for anything but for their ideals. For education, for culture. During our stay we celebrate his vision and those of a coterie of his friends, among them a Greek by the name of Demetrios Vikelas who believed in him and on 23 June 1894 created the International Olympic Committee. One is fascinated by his intellect as much as by his leadership qualities which would have bordered on arrogance. He was obviously in his late teens when he seriously started forming an idea of how he thought the world should look like.
In one of the meetings with the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee (IPCC), the President of the IOC mused that de Coubertin was barely 31 years old when he created the International Olympic Committee. But consider this. By 1888, when he was just 25 years old, de Coubertin had already founded the Comité pour la Propagation des Exercises Physiques. He spent the following five years organising an international meeting of athletes and sports enthusiasts (Hill p.6) which culminated in the creation of the IOC. He could summon more senior people to converge in Paris to hear his ideas for reviving the Olympic Games and convince them to talk their governments into agreeing to organise the revived Games for the good of their youths, their culture, and their education.
Mr President, I often relate this story to emphasise the creative mind of a young person, of youth. Yet somewhere between then and now, humanity lost its trust in the creativity of young people. And young people themselves, apparently lost their confidence to contribute to the development of society, surrendering their being less to God and family values, than to new values, cultures and morals that have more to do with material wealth that came with no hard work, the living as espoused by movies and television, processed foods and unhealthy lifestyles.
While the creation and celebration of the original Olympic Games in antiquity had more to do with man trying to bring to an end the perpetual circle of wars between the city states of the day, the founding fathers of the modern Olympic Games had a much wider agenda. Indeed as it should, that agenda has continued to evolve, however, enhancing its core message of education and culture, peace, social inclusion, friendship, fair play and excellence, among others. These values were at the core of the re-creation of the Olympic Games in 1896. They are at the centre of Olympism today, with variations that take into account the inevitable socio-economic changes.
This necessary evolution of changes, however, need not have taken away respect for youth and the application of their minds to creativity. Yes, youth are at the forefront today of the cutting edge technological advancements. However, we admire the young creators of the mind-blowing video games, social websites and apps more for the billions they make than for their contribution to the advancement of knowledge, healthy lifestyles and peace in the world.
You would be right to ask me what has the IOC done to engage young people, to empower them and to imbue in them the values of Olympism. First, over the past 15 years, the IOC has enhanced the capacity of the Athletes’ Commission. The Commission has over the years been taking measures to ensure that athletes have a voice in the Olympic Games. As a result, almost all, if not all, International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have formed their own athletes’ commissions. Representatives of athletes as a matter of course now sit on each and every executive committee of NOCs, of IFs and of continental associations. They contribute ideas, they advise on what is good for their peers, and they are part of the decision-making process. This goes all the way through the IOC itself.
Secondly, the IOC has created the Youth Olympic Games. The focuses of these Games are education, the values of Olympism and culture. Young people organise these Games. They are fully empowered to make the necessary decisions. The IOC places full trust in them. Young reporters write about the Games. Young Ambassadors herald the values of the Games to fellow young people in their own countries. Living in harmony and caring less for the outcome of competition make these Games a unique undertaking.
The empowerment of youth within the Olympic Movement has shown how responsible young people can be if they are trusted to make decisions in suitable conditions. Since 1981 the IOC has been doing its best to elect women into the ranks of the IOC. It has promoted gender equality throughout its “affiliates”. It has made it a condition of good governance. And it has provided resources to train and encourage girls and women not only to take part in sport but to stand for election. This programme is managed by my Department, so I am well placed to address the issue with a modicum of authority. Here is a surprise. Whereas everywhere else women are struggling to make it into the leadership of national, regional and international organisations, young people are electing male and female athletes as a matter of course to represent them on the IOC.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The athletes are not only electing men and women to the Athletes’ Commission to represent them on the IOC. They have also taken to heart the spirit of fair play by electing athletes from all the continents. One would have expected that in a situation where the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, China and other major Olympic countries bring athletes to the Games by the hundreds, athletes from small countries like Zimbabwe would stand no chance of being elected. Yet that has not been the case.
While I am at it Mr President, let me talk a little bit more about what my department does. You will have noticed that none of the files above concern the actual promotion of sport. We are the Department of the Olympic Values, if I may so claim and boast. These core values of Olympism underpin the core business of the IOC of organising what others out there term the greatest show on earth. We have a Youth Strategy, a project that is meant to engage with and involve youths in sport and leadership across the globe. I have spoken about women in terms of their education, gender equality and empowerment of girls. We have a vibrant sport and sustainability programme which not only is meant to use sport to educate about environmental sustainability, but also to ensure that the Games leave a lasting positive legacy, a legacy of sport and healthy lifestyles, a legacy of infrastructure that serves the community, a legacy of vibrant business, of conscientious youth ready to play their part in national affairs and nation-building and an army of volunteers who will have learned that there is good in providing services to the nation and take only a THANK YOU in pay, proud to have won the uniform of the Games organising committee, proud to have played a part in the success of the Games.
Colleagues at IOA, in particular the President, can tell you more about the IOC Culture and Olympic Education programme. He and the Dean are members of the IOC Culture and Olympic Education Commission, the biggest in the IOC. Hope- fully some of you have taken part in our Olympic Values Education Programme. Of course the Olympic Games cannot be without the Cultural Olympiad. Pierre de Coubertin is said to have noted that sport without culture is like a military exercise. Well, tell that to some countries which still run their sport through their ministries of defense!
Ladies and gentlemen,
Some have asked me before, why do we do all that. They think wrongly that the IOC is all about the Olympic Games. Yes, the Olympics and the Olympic Rings are powerful brands, which we protect jealously. But the Olympic Games would not be what they are if Pierre de Coubertin and his colleagues had only sought to revive the Games that would only be a sporting extravaganza. The Olympic Games, in order to be the reincarnation of the Olympic Games of Antiquity, had to subscribe to a set of values. They had to place service to humankind before all else. They had to be a catalyst for youth and communities. Put simply, the Games had to be relevant to the poor kid in Chitungwiza as much as they did to the horseman in Ulan Bator.
I would be the last to claim that sport is perfect. On many occasions it is the pursuit of excellence and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that motivate some young people. On many occasions we have seen doping, racism and sexism take centre-stage. We have seen young people being driven to their physical and emotional destruction by the ambitions of others, the unscrupulous businessmen, dope peddlers, families, peers and friends. Recently, we witnessed the surge in illegal betting and therefore match-fixing. All these sully the good name of sport. Is sport dirty? No. Find the answer in the explanation of one journalist who eloquently debunked the common notion that politics is a dirty game. No, he said, it is the hands that handle politics that are dirty.
Being here gives you the opportunity to reflect on your collective and personal roles. Who are your role models? With whom do you keep company? Really, should you continue expecting the family, community and your nation to serve you? Or is it high time that you should start giving? The late President Kennedy, at his inauguration, said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”.
Shouldn’t you be the change we want? Are you The Future Generation or The Now Generation? The choice of building The Future We (All) Want is in your hands.
I conclude by quoting my favorite statesman and philosopher, the late Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania: “Inawezekana, timiza wajibu wako”. It can be done, play your part.
SITHOLE Tomas A. Ganda, "Τhe reinforcement of olympism through youth", in: K. Georgiadis(ed.), INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC ACADEMY, 53th International Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia, 11-25/6/2013), International Olympic Academy, Athens, 2014, pp.55-63.