Education and sport have always been intrinsically linked and the Olympic Games context is no exception, particularly those of the modern era. Indeed the French nobleman and historian, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who helped to formulate the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Paris in 1894, was motivated by a desire to help improve education by using sport as a focus.
The promotion of Olympic ideals and the engagement of students in the Olympics, through teaching and learning programmes in schools and even within the higher education arena, have featured in all of the modern Olympic Games each with its own emphasis. The incorporation of a formal education program, as part of activities promoted by the IOC, probably dates back to the 1976 Montreal Olympics when educational materials highlighting Olympic ideals were distributed to schools in the Quebec region. However, Sydney 2000 appears to have been the first time an Olympics education programme was implemented across all schools in a host nation. The Sydney 2000 National Education Program included such resources as a free student newspaper, an interactive school resource kit and an internet site.
However, while Olympic-focused education is often viewed as being designed to promote Olympic ideals in an uncritical way, others have argued that such programmes often also serve as promotional tools for the values of the Olympic industry and its corporate partners. For example, in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the role of sponsorship by Westpac in the National Education Program helped to draw attention away from its major financial involvement around that time in the controversial Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory and instead assisted in creating an image for the company of a model corporate citizen (Lenksyj, 2002).
In preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics, an Olympic Education Program (OEP) commenced in 2000 and involved around 2000 physical education teachers working on the project. The programme included visits to archaeological sites and permanent exhibitions relevant to the Olympics, access to library and archival material, as well as the creation of a teaching kit.
However, on the ground the OEP was not always successful in achieving its goals and an evaluative study (Grammatikopoulos et al, 2005) found that not all school principals were well informed about the OEP activities which in turn made it difficult to fully implement the programme. In addition, the lack of sports equipment and facilities in some schools was a barrier to the success of the program.
With the Beijing Olympics still a relatively recent memory, there will no doubt be examination and critique by educational scholars as to the nature of the Olympic related educational programmes conducted within China and the cultural values embedded in and promoted through these.
In the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics, the official education programme site for the Games was launched in September 2008. London 2012 has been working alongside the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) whose aim vis-à-vis the Olympics is to ensure that the, ‘educational benefits of the Games are maximised nationally and provide a lasting legacy, particularly to the children and young people of the 2012 Olympic generation.’ The legacy envisaged is of a generation that is inspired by and embraces the Olympic and Paralympic values of friendship, respect, excellence, determination, inspiration courage and equality in the hope that in turn these individuals will make a positive contribution to society at all levels – i.e. to the international, national and local communities they are part of.
Certainly these aspirations are noble and in keeping with Pierre de Coubertin’s vision more than 100 years ago. It will be interesting then to track how the London 2012 Olympics education programmes and activities are implemented on the ground in schools and other learning centres across the country, as a way in to analysing what this says about current cultural values and practices within the UK and around education and sport in general.
Getting started with the British Library's collections
Coubertin, Pierre de. Olympism: selected writings
International Olympic Committee, 2000
London reference collections shelfmark: YA.2002.a.18598
DS shelfmark: m01/23572 DSC
Grammatikopoulos, V., Hassandra, M., Koustelios, A. & Theodorakis, Y. (2005) ‘Evaluating the Olympic Education Program: a qualitative approach'
Studies in Educational Evaluation, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 347-357
DS shelfmark: 8490.468000 DSC
Also available as an electronic resource within British Library reading rooms
Lenskyj, Helen. The best Olympics ever?: social impacts of Sydney 2000
State University of New York Press, 2002
London reference collections shelfmark: YC.2002.a.17071
DS shelfmark: m02/37974 DSC
Moragas, Miquel de., Kennett, Christopher. & Puig, Nuria. (eds.) The legacy of the Olympic Games 1984-2000: international symposium, Lausanne, 14th, 15th and 16th November 2002
International Olympic Committee, 2003
DS shelfmark: m05/.17072 DSC