Prakruti Ramesh (India) on Being Educated in the Olympic Spirit

August 20, 2012

I remember being asked to draw and color the Olympic rings and pin them on the canvas bulletin board in my school’s auditorium. It was 1996 and I was six years old—the kind of kid that takes keen pleasure in coloring hills purple and people green. I suspect that the act of drawing the Olympic logo meant little more than anything else I was in the habit of doing, despite the fact that newspapers (which I didn’t read) and our single¬ channel television at home were abuzz with news of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Here’s a question. Why were six ¬year¬-olds in an Indian classroom made to draw the Olympic logo? More basically,¬¬ what does it mean to be educated about the Olympics, and is it any different from being educated in the Olympic spirit?

Retrospectively, it seems to me that this early school time exercise had as little to do with Olympic values as with the fun of drawing things (for starters, we lost marks if we colored the rings in any way that deviated from the logo’s design!). The object of the assignment was to memorize the logo and remember its connection with the Olympic Games.

When I changed schools in the sixth grade, there was suddenly a much greater emphasis on sport than there had been before. Sport was no longer something we merely answered exams about, but a key event in the life ¬cycle of a day. We played every evening until it was too dark to see, our bodies dwarfed by orange sunsets. Although sporting events were regularly organized, the school refrained from awarding medals or prizes, so that sports weren’t simply a means to a trophy (though they were almost always a means to friendship).

By participating in sporting activities, I developed an appreciation for teamwork. I understood, in what I can only term a ‘biological’ sense, that my actions could further (or impair) the prospects of those playing with me. On the playing field, I was vulnerable—I could be injured or, worse still, left out. But I was also, in an interesting parallel way, safe since my body and faculties were supported by the bodies and faculties of my teammates.

Sport teaches people that it is normal to be dependent on others, and to have others depend on you—a crucial lesson in this era of globalization where economic, military, and environmental survival depends on respectful international relations. Sport teaches people about friendship, responsibility, and about dedicating one’s mind and body to achieving a desired result. Since teamwork depends on whether the players trust each other, sport helps cultivate respect and a desire for excellence.

Sport is a reminder that the values that seem most difficult to find, can be nurtured with the simplest of materials—some ground, fresh air, and people. A significant challenge in the decades to come will be that of shedding the simplistic dichotomy between ‘work’ and ‘play’ that still informs educational systems. In the twenty-first century, it is as important to recognize that work and play are co-mplicated, as it is to understand that mind and body, thought, and action are equal and complementary partners. The Olympic Games, therefore, does not only symbolize what the best of sport can offer, but the best of what humanity can achieve.
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