While the world turns its eyes to the London Olympics wars continue unreported, scarcely breaking into the consciousness of “ordinary man”. If sport is so important, could it be a valid means to educate and advocate for peace?
Historically sport has been important to mankind. It could be argued that we have a basic desire, or need, to compete. Competition does not have to mean war and the unequal distribution of wealth and power.
The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, born in France in 1863, believed that physical competition brought positive character traits: "Peace…could be the product only of a better world; a better world could be brought about only by better individuals; and better individuals could be developed only by the give and take, the buffeting and battering, the stress and strain of fierce competition."
The first Olympics were designed to unite a fragmented Greece. As friendships formed and democracy developed, classical Greek culture thrived. The philosophy of balance between the physical and the spiritual and moral development brought a unity that for a time was greater than political ambition and power struggles.
As political aspirations overcame the balance of physical and moral development, classical Greek society fell. The Olympics also lapsed. The Romans revived the Olympics, but added bloody spectator sports to the once peaceful and idealistic Olympic games. By 393AD the Olympic movement had been outlawed. The changed motivations and political aspirations, and the advent of Christianity cleansing all things pagan, had led to the fall of the Greek idealistic Olympic spirit and the demise of the games.
French educator Pierre de Coubertin revived the modern Olympics hoping to bring about a better world. He observed that "competing for a place on an athletic team developed qualities of character”.
The Olympic creed reminds us that ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.’
Can we compete on the sports fields instead of the battle fields? Education that includes a balance of physical and moral development, embodying the Olympic ideals, will foster healthy competition and contribute to a greater peace for men.