Pang Nianliang (China) on An Interpretation of Olympic Values and Approaches to Realize Them

August 15, 2012

The Olympic values, which figured quite prominently in Pierre de Coubertin’s original Olympics narrative, are now interpreted and constructed by scholars and IOC officials in many different ways.* When considering if a value should be regarded as an Olympic value, the question of whether it is crucial to the Olympic Games and sports more generally should be taken into account. It is my understanding that the core values of the Olympic Games are: peace, excellence, fair play, justice, participation, equality, respect, and mutual understanding.
Coubertin's main aspiration in reviving the Olympics was to educate the athletes as the peace ambassadors. The value of peace urges sports participants and audiences to restrain aggressive behaviors; to avoid discrimination, fights, and war; and to promote a peaceful society. Pursuit of excellence by self-transcendence is a key element in sport, without which the sport and Olympic Games would not be continued. The motto of Olympics—"Citius, Altius, Fortius"—precisely reflects the essence of pursuing excellence. Fair-play calls for athletes to pursue victory under the same rules and equitable chances, and to act in a dignified manner toward others even when others do not play fairly. It is an internalized value for athletes and is applied worldwide today in many different ways. Justice demands referees or umpires to execute the same rules for every athlete in the competition process. Both ancient and modern Olympics have also contributed a lot to promoting the social justice. Participation is an essential value connected to the modern Olympics, which emphasizes that actively involving in sport is as important as winning since participation ensures developing body, mind, and soul. Just like what Coubertin said, the important thing in life is not the victory, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well. Equality is also a value of the modern Olympics, which means the equal right for everyone to participate in sports regardless of their gender, religion, race, or social background. As a necessary value supporting the smooth operation of the Olympics, mutual understanding and respect are not only required among athletes, coaches, and officials, but also among regions and nations. It is assumed that Olympic Games are the only international institution where the various nations have more common views than differences.

As to the initiatives that help young people to internalize the Olympic values, I think the impact that role models can have is very important. The Youth Olympics should be transformed into an educational program rather than duplicated Olympic Games. It should provide potential high-level athletes all around the world opportunities to truly make friends and learn Olympic values through living together, participating in mixed team training and competitions, educational sessions and cultural activities. Such a model would help them to be nurtured as role models and ambassadors of peace as well as growing up to be super sport stars, who are public figures having great influence on society with communicative tools like Facebook, Twitter, or microblogs. Additionally, Olympic Education Programs—supported by IOC and NOCs— could be set up for young and talented athletes on each continent in order to help them build friendships and internalize the Olympic values.

*Norbert Muller 2004; Deanna L. Binder 2007; Olympic Charter 2010; Georgiathis, 2000.
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