Chapter III: Culture & Education

Excerpt from Chapter


“art and culture remain a core part of the Olympic experience and it would be untrue to say that competitions, of a sort, no longer take place in these disciplines.

Indeed, at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, there was an Olympic Fine Arts exhibition, which was one of the highest profile cultural events of the Games, attended by both former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and current President Jacques Rogge and which had involved a competitive selection process of international artworks. More generally, the Olympic Games involves a series of creative competitions – though of an admittedly slightly different fashion – to design certain elements of the Games, from public art installations, to venue architecture, to the OCOG emblem, Olympic torch and graphic design components of a Games. Nevertheless, there is no formal awarding of Olympic medals for these types of competitions. Instead, as noted earlier, Olympic cities are required by the IOC to produce a cultural programme of some kind, the guidelines for which have remained loose in contrast with the tight regulations and extensive support manuals that exist for other Olympic components. As a result, OCOGs have often struggled to retain the cultural programme as a high delivery priority compared with other well known (and closely supervised) Olympic programmes, and the general public has remained largely unaware of this dimension of the Games.

As well as having a strong cultural and artistic undercurrent, Coubertin’s original vision was also intimately tied to pedagogic progress and, as Chapter I explained, the principles of Olympism were forged through the philosophy of educational institutions. Coubertin himself was an educator. In present times, this commitment is implemented through extensive educational exchanges between schools to develop an understanding of Olympism, a process that tends to take place under the supervision of National Olympic Academies or, in their absence, the NOCs. However, the continuity of such programmes is quite uneven around the world and, while some countries have created long term commitments to pursuing Coubertin’s vision, or a contemporary version of what has been termed Olympic education initiatives, most countries tend to limit activities to specific Games editions lead-up periods in coordination with respective OCOGs. Indeed, OCOGs have varied in their level of dedication to the education programme and their capacity to make it visible and relevant to Games audiences and related stakeholders.

Despite these challenges, the education and cultural programmes remain critical cornerstones of official Olympic principles and values. As such, one should view the Games as a cultural festival and a platform for educational reform, within which the sports competitions are only one dimension. On this basis, we next consider some of the critical developments in cultural and educational programming around the Games and emerging opportunities in view of the growing demand for the Games to be both sustainable and community-led. We begin by outlining some of the key mechanisms for cultural expression in the Olympic Games programme, before discussing examples of cultural artefacts that have been as historically relevant as the breaking of world records. The chapter concludes with an overview of the Olympic educational infrastructure, which reveals how scholarship and intellectual inquiry provide a crucial foundation for the Olympic movement.”