Olympic and Paralympic Games education programmes: Education as engagement from a practitioner's view


For many (Chatziefstathiou, 201 1; Müller, 2000; Kidd, 1996; Parry, 1998), the advent of the modern Olympic Games cannot be separated from the principles and practice of education. Frustrated by an education system he felt to be failing the young men of France, founder of the modern Olympic movement Pierre De Coubertin looked overseas for inspiration. One place he found it was in the English public school system. De Coubertin was particularly impressed by the central role of competitive sport in the education provided by England’s all-male private boarding schools. As recognised by Dikaia Chatziefstathiou, De Coubertin saw this sporting activity not merely as an opportunity to develop boys’ physical skills, but as a vital educational tool for building moral and social strength (Chatziefstathiou, 2012). It was on this basis that De Coubertin developed the concept of Olympism.

Today, there is a significant and growing body of academic work which addresses and explores Olympic Education (see, for example, Chatziefstathiou, 2012; Cuplan and Wigmore, 2010; Naul, 2008; Binder, 2005). Notably, there is a much less substantial body of work addressing Paralympic Education. This is despite what 1 would argue to be a much closer, more crucial link between the Paralympic Games and the principles of social change, personal development, and equality which are central to a twenty-first century understanding of Olympic and Paralympic Education. For the purpose of this chapter, however, we will leave this argument mostly to one side. Instead, we will be exploring what Olympic and Paralympic Education means and looks like today, and how it may begin to look in the future.

Olympic Education is typically understood as:

  • 1 The scholastic study of Olympism;
  • 2 The role of Olympism in formal and informal education and learning;
  • 3 The education programmes developed and delivered by host nations/cities.

In this chapter, we will not be addressing the first of these. As the former Head ot Education for the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), my expertise is as a practitioner. We will therefore focus primarily on the work done by Games’ education programmes, and, to a lesser extent, that done by (in)formal learning built on and influenced by the principles of Olympism.

With regards to the latter, Chatziefstathiou has uncovered two key strands of thinking around what this includes; namely, 'Olympism in school physical education’ and ‘Olympism beyond school’ (Chatziefstathiou, 2012). 1 maintain that, with regards to the former, there are three ways to view Olympic Education:

  • 1 As a critical means by which to engage audiences in host nations and cities;
  • 2 Asa means by which to change hearts and minds, and to deliver on a social mission inspired by the Games, though not necessarily of the Games; and
  • 3 Asa critical pillar of legacy, which is increasingly framed in terms of societal benefits which go above and beyond that of tangible infrastructure projects.

The education programmes and initiatives of the last twenty years all broke new ground in some way: the sheer scale of Beijing 2008; the interesting vocational and Further Education focus of Vancouver 2010, the determined outreach into the least advantaged communities of Rio 2016. For me, two editions stand out in particular as having created the modern Olympic sense of education as an exercise in active engagement: Sydney 2000 and London 2012. Every decision made by every Local Organising Committee (LOC) is subject to the particular social, cultural, political, and economic environments in which these decisions are made. Drawing comparisons is therefore complicated, and declaring ‘best practice’ or ‘most successful’ is arguably a doomed endeavour.

And yet, it is important to highlight where Organising Committees have brought fresh thinking to the concept of Olympic Education. Later in this chapter, I will go on to explore how Tokyo 2020 may well be the next to achieve a paradigm shift in the delivery and impact of Paralympic Education. However, for the most part, we will use London 2012 as an example of a Games which placed Olympic and Paralympic Education at the very heart of its organisation. During my time at LOCOG, we were determined to deliver a Games which not only celebrated sporting achievement, but which, in the philosophy of De Coubertin, and in the words of LOCOG Chair Lord Coe, could support young people and ‘inspire a generation’.

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