With Olympic fever sweeping the nation ahead of London 2012, Matthew Roebuck has his say on ‘The Other Olympics’.
Some would argue there is only one event that truly reflects the spirit of Olympism. Can that be true and if so is it the Olympics? Even in Antiquity the games of Olympia were just one of four Pan-Hellenic (Greece-wide) games. Last year I went in search of ‘The Other Olympics’.
I visited thirteen international, multi-sport events each with a distinct character. I wanted to understand the motivation behind these events, the identity of those taking part and the stories of the games.
Olympism should be more than a medal, more than just sport. When educationalist Baron de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee he dreamed of bringing the youth of the world together, celebrating their achievements by sharing and learning from the best of others.
The people I met at the ‘Other Olympics’ weren’t always elite sportswomen or sportsmen. Some will compete at London 2012 but others would barely make the school team. What all participants knew was that by engaging with others and by doing their best they became Olympians. De Coubertin himself told us that importance lies not in “winning but taking part”.
More than a mere medal drives these athletes. Ottille hopes to be a role model and honour her donor at the World Transplant Games, Zeljko researches his art at the Gay Games. The World Police and Fire Games in New York gathers thousands to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
‘The Other Olympics’ have influenced the main IOC movement. In the United Arab Emirates I attended the International Wheelchair and Amputee Games, until recently known as the International Stoke Mandeville Games. If you recognise the name that’s probably because this event also evolved to become the Paralympics and give London 2012’s mascot its name.
Large sporting bodies like the IOC can easily become out of touch. If not for Alice Milliat, founder of the first Women’s Olympics in Paris 1922, women boxers wearing skirts might not be an issue at all. Without the cause that these games represented, women’s participation at London 2012 might stretch no further than one or two ‘feminine-appropriate’ side events.
March 2012 sees both the Arctic Winter Games and Arnold Schwarzneggar’s very own ‘Arnold Sports Classic’ held in the USA. Closer to home, Cornwall hosts the International Mining Games. In Voss, Norway, extreme sports event ‘Winterveko’ combines elite competition with first time ‘come and try’ sessions.
Such events involve and reflect the societies they develop out of. Sport is at its best when structured to reflect the best in society. It is this feeling that can create such hurt and debate over rights to sponsor the Olympics. In the interests of Olympism and the spirit of the games the IOC would do would do well to share and learn from the best of ‘The Other Olympics’.
At ‘The Other Olympics’ of 2011 I encountered great stories, interviewed a Princess, shopped with the Palestinian National Football Team and benefited from great kindness. So this March I’ll be volunteering at the Winter Transplant Games.
Matthew Roebuck, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Matt Roebuck has experience working at all levels of sports development and is currently finishing his first book, ‘The Other Olympics’, to be available early summer 2012. For further information see www.theotherolympics.co.uk or like at
www.facebook.com/theotherolympics. Any publishers or those interested in bespoke articles should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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