Olympian Efforts: How Ancient Games Shape the Modern World. (Perspectives)

By Rogge, Jacques | Harvard International Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Olympian Efforts: How Ancient Games Shape the Modern World. (Perspectives)


Rogge, Jacques, Harvard International Review


A little more than a year ago, the world was anticipating the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The Winter Games were making their triumphant return to US mountains for the first time in 22 years. The winter sports season was producing great competition around the globe, promising high level of play at the Games. The lure of winning Olympic gold on the home ice and snow had drawn together the most promising Winter Olympic team the US Olympic Committee had ever fielded, and the organizing committee had overcome some daunting challenges to assemble a first-rate organization that promised to produce fantastic Games. Everything was unfolding as it had been envisioned seven years earlier when the International Olympic Committee (JOG) gave its nod to Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Games. What was unforeseen, and what was impossible to imagine, was the backdrop against which these Games would be held--the September 11 terrorist attacks and the growing threat to global security.

I watched the tragedy of September 11 unfold on the television set in my office, as did many of my colleagues around the world. We were not US citizens, but we were seized by the same emotions. The events of that day may have happened in lower Manhattan, but their impact was felt across the globe by people of all nationalities. We were all brought together by the emotional bonds of fear, sadness, and uncertainty. As a result, in the ensuing months, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City were looked to as a demonstration that the world could indeed come together in peace.

While the central purpose of the Games is to celebrate the achievements of the best athletes in the world, every particular edition of the Games has brought people together and transcended conflicts raging at the time. The Olympic Games embody the world's desire to celebrate that which is most basic and traditional in our lives, that which signifies our humanity: the pursuit of excellence through athletic competition.

As the Olympic Games return to the place of their birth in August 2004, the Athens organizers will emphasize the traditional values upon which Olympic competition has been built. If we take time to reflect upon this ethic, we moderns can learn some rather important lessons from these very ancient Games.

The Games' Modern Rebirth

In 1894 Pierre de Coubertin, a man devoted to classical education, established the IOC in Paris to revive the spirit of the Olympic Games of ancient Greece. He called his idea Olympism, and while he realized it would be considered utopian, he strove to use sport to teach the world's youth basic human values that would enable them to lead better lives and build better communities. Coubertin dedicated his life to developing a movement that would support his ideas of using sport to advance culture and education and then bring the world's youth together every four years in peaceful competition to celebrate the dynamic between sport, education, and culture.

While much has changed in the years since Coubertin revived the Olympic Games, the TOC's role has remained the same: to lead the Olympic movement in its mission to advance Olympic values worldwide and to ensure the regular celebration of the Olympic Games. The Olympic movement does nor hold any grandiose visions of changing the world, but it does maintain hope that it can contribute to the improvement of the world by promoting the role of sport and its historic premier event, the Olympic Games.

While the Games highlight the thrill of participation and the glory of victory; they also demonstrate the core Olympic values: fair play, respect for others, the balance between a strong body and mind, and the joy of taking part in the pursuit of excellence. Sport, properly taught, instills important social values and plays an important role in teaching values to youth, enabling them to improve themselves and their community. …

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