Gcobani Qambela (South Africa) on Olympic Values in Today’s World

July 30, 2012

George Orwell is quoted to have once said 'sport is war without the shooting.' This is in reference to the competitive nature of sport that Orwell equates to war without physical combat. Is there more to sport than mere competition without physical battle? What values do mega-sporting events like the Olympic Games contribute?
"Imbeko, ubuhlobo, ukugqiba emagqabini" are words that most people in the global community would not understand. These words in my home language (Xhosa) mean 'respect, friendship, and excellence,' and along with the four Paralympic values of 'determination, inspiration, courage, and equality' form the values associated with the Olympics: the 'values of Olympism.'

Although, on the one hand, we have seen unprecedented developments in technological innovations in the twenty-first century such as social media platforms that connect people from different parts of the world, on the other hand we have also seen differences being highlighted between people and countries (ethnicity, race, class, gender, nationality, etc…) and we consequently see people pulling close to those who are similar to themselves and not partaking in this great global synergy and connection of people. On top of this, we are also living in a time of corruption and global inequality amongst not only nations, but people.

The Olympic values of respect, excellence, and friendship extend beyond just the Olympic Games. I believe that in the twenty-first century they can help level the differences that seem to set the world apart and provide an effective and much needed moral compass as to how we should conduct and lead our lives.

The value of respect means people do not just compete, but infuse competition with humility and dignity. The value of excellence, premised on the principle of fair play, ensures if one works hard they will accordingly be judged and rewarded more for their output than on trivial characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and nationality. The value of friendship proves Orwell wrong. The Olympics are not like war. It is possible to compete, but still maintain a healthy friendship with one's competitor.

To realize the Olympic values in the twenty-first century, language is perhaps the most important tool. It was former South African President Nelson Mandela who said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands that goes to his head, but if you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart." For these values to be infused into people's everyday lives, creative ways have to be designed such as cultural games (as the South African government is currently doing), to help phrase them in a language and setting that is not only culturally relevant, but one that goes to 'the heart.' At a macro level, building the Olympic charter into physical education at school with practical exercises/challenges helps entrench the values of Olympism in the world.
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