Kavya Srinivasan (India) on the Triumph of Respect, Friendship, and Excellence Over Socially Constructed Barriers

June 12, 2012

On a visit to the Olympics museum in Lausanne last summer, I was struck by the contemporary relevance of Olympic values. In a highly globalized world where the economic and social development processes are highly skewed, the values of excellence, friendship, and respect act as glue, binding the different parts of the globe together. Every culture around the world has stories, myths, and legends about men and women who have stood for these principles. The Olympics have provided role models who demonstrate and epitomize these values at an international level.

The story of Cathy Freeman is not just about personal excellence in sprinting, but of a spirit of hope and the sacredness of human potential for all marginalized communities across the world. The legend of Jesse Owens and Luz Long is a story about inclusivity, and the transcendence of narrow divisions based on color and race. It is also about the spirit of sportsmanship and the triumph of human values and friendship, over socially constructed barriers. The Olympics will continue to symbolize these core values in the field of sports.

But Olympic values can be applied in all walks of life and can be promoted through education, culture, and public initiatives. As a privileged Indian student, I am able to appreciate these principles. How many Indians and South Asians would have ever had an opportunity to grasp these principles in their totality? I believe there is an urgent need to create a community of champions among the youth, from different walks of life, who can carry forward the principles in the field of education through camps, school events, and other educational initiatives.

Olympians themselves can be central to this outreach effort. This can be done by engaging Olympic athletes, not divided by country, but organized into teams named Respect, Friendship, and Excellence. These teams might tour the world, teaching their sports and demonstrating their values, especially in war-torn regions. Such an initiative would have the potential to advance international harmony, promote sports education and, most importantly, give children around the world the opportunity to meet and engage with role models who embody the values of respect, friendship, and excellence in their own lives and can serve as an example for the future generations to follow.

Engagement with role models to advance Olympic values should not end with sports. The international team model could be extended to other aspects of culture. For example, one could host music events with musicians from around the world, stage plays with actors from different nations, and promote artwork with artists across borders. Olympic values could be brought to more and more people, transforming lives by communicating excellence, respect and friendship in new ways.

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