Time passes quickly at Olympia. The month of capturing the Olympic spirit is coming to an end. The isolated life at the IOA campus (the International Olympic Academy) has been, and continues to be, busy but yet easy. Busy in the sense that there is always something going on (lectures, presentations, sporting activities or “social evenings” dedicated to cultural elements of the participant’s respective home countries and so on). Easy in the sense that there are not really any academic demands or strict obligations regarding what we as participants need to do here apart from presenting the article we applied with. Instead, it is up to each one of us to decide to what degree we want to engage with the knowledge presented to us, and in what sense we interact and become involved during the lectures as well as in taking advantage of the rather high level of Olympic expertise present in our surroundings. There are no exams or any way through which we can “pass” or “fail” this experience as such, which in a way makes total sense if my stay here first and foremost is to be considered as an experience rather than anything else. After all, experiences are generally not to be deemed in terms of pass or fail.
I must admit, though, that I did have higher expectations on the academic part of this stay, and when asked to evaluate and grade various aspects of the overarching structure of the seminar, one of the main issues I raised was to suggest a higher degree of imposed demands on the students to ensure that the participants in fact participates. In retrospect, however, I actually might have changed my mind since this issue, I will argue, can be connected to the Eurocentricity which some argues is present within the Olympic movement as a whole.
Logically, in order for participants to be able to participate more actively and meet stricter academic demands, they need to feel comfortable with communicating in English which for some participants is not the case. Consequently, for the IOA to ensure a seminar where it would be fair to have for instance written exams or oral debates with the intention of grading the efforts, the IOA would need to have a much more strict language barrier as part of the selection process. This would naturally exclude certain parts of the world where sufficient academic English perhaps is not as common. Although all continents are represented within this group of participants, there is a major overrepresentation of European students and arguably there is no reason to believe that installing a language barrier would increase the representation of participants from non-western countries. The main point here being that the production of Olympic knowledge, with the seminar participants being potential future producers of Olympic knowledge, might be seen as a reflection of the Olympic movement as a whole, and more specifically as a mirror of the Olympic philosophy of Olympism. So from this perspective, a more loose structure with an “optional” intake of Olympic knowledge might be seen as a way of avoiding Eurocentricity and an enabling of potential representation from all around the globe.
On the other hand one might twist the arguments a bit further and end up with a different conclusion. In the end this all boils down to what the intention with this seminar is. As noted initially, and as pointed out for us on several occasions throughout the month, the IOA would like us to grasp “the Olympic spirit” and go home and promote Olympism and convince educational authorities to install Olympic education in curriculums around the world. The more Olympism there is out there, the better for humanity seems to be the reasoning behind it. So with not having a set of strict demands in place for the seminar and instead enabling the participants to just enjoy the experience and have a blast with fellow students at this paradise-like campus (a fact which on an individual level of course is highly appreciated amongst the participants), we all return home with a sense of joy and 34 four new friends which we have learned to know under circumstances which are seen as provided by the Olympic philosophy. In other words, we have had a remarkable month in the name of Olympism, and are arguable therefore more willing to embrace the calls for passing on this philosophy of life, a philosophy which supposedly is made out of a set of universal principles. The question I would like to pose here, and the willingness to accept this does of course rest upon the philosophical locality of the individual reader, is whether or not the universality of Olympism, or any claim of universality for that matter, is a Western construct. And if so, albeit being a somewhat far-fetched line of thought, is not a seminar where the main intention is to convince the participants of the greatness of Olympism based on a Eurocentric view?
Potential eurocentrism aside, one must admit that there is a degree of unavoidable joy involved in the somewhat bizarre traditions we are bound to sustain. The other day the annually arranged torch relay took place where we all dressed up in togas (or bed sheets to be more precise) spreading out around the campus football field and jointly running around it passing the Olympic flame in between us. Personally, the event caused a severe internal conflict between the philosophically agitated cynic version of me, and its counterpart who simply wants to enjoy everything as much as possible and swallow every pill offered without giving it a second thought. The conflict remains to be solved…