Very soon the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games will open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thousands of athletes from around the globe will navigate their way to this historic South American city to compete in their respective sports. To more fully understand and appreciate this upcoming celebration of sport, it is important to know about more than the fastest times and the highest scores. Behind the performances on the field or court or in the pool lies a philosophy that has undergirded these Games for decades. This philosophy, known as Olympism, was developed by Pierre de Coubertin, the French historian and educator who revived the modern Olympic Games.
According to the Olympic Charter, "Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." The fact that Olympism gives us a philosophy for sport as well as daily life is valuable and can help people around the world, athletes and non-athletes alike, to have a lens for living life and a lens for viewing the world. Coubertin once said, "The strength of Olympism comes to it from that which is simply human, hence worldwide is its essence."
Learning about Olympism helps us take a different perspective and encourages a unique way to engage with the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Olympic Charter further states that, "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." Olympism allows us to appreciate a bigger picture, one where sport can be seen as a much broader phenomenon that values the human condition. Sport has the potential to contribute to humanity and peace. Olympism helps us connect with a global community that believes in the values of sport and the power of sport for making the world a better place. Coubertin said, "I remain convinced that sport is one of the most forceful elements of peace, and I am confident in its future action."
To understand Olympism is to appreciate and respect diversity in all forms, including race, gender, sexual orientation and disability. The Olympic Charter continues, "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." Olympism is a human philosophy that embraces everyone. The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, frequently speaks of "unity in diversity," which resonates through Olympism.
So when you tune in this summer to follow your favorite sports or athletes, take a moment to consider this. After the torches are extinguished following 16 days of the Olympic Games and 10 days of the Paralympic Games, the competitions may end, but the underlying values of Olympism live on in all of us who value the determination and diversity of humanity.