Post-Olympism and the
Aestheticization of Sport
The question of post-Olympism is an interesting one. The prefix ‘post’ refers to a number of contemporary discussions of postmodernism, deconstruction, high modernity and similar approaches to society in general and social institutions in particular. These discussions, having taken place during the 1980s and 1990s, are now, with a characteristic delay, affecting sport – including Olympism and the Olympic Games. This raises the question of the essence of sport as a social institution and the character of individual sporting activities. The question of the aesthetics of sport is related to questions of modern and postmodern sport. The modern legitimization of sport has relied upon a number of moral and functional premises. The Olympic movement and Olympic sport have, since Coubertin, referred to moral and universal forms of legitimization. On the other hand, the actual practice of the Olympic organization has continually involved political compromises, bureaucratic misuse and, recently, fundamental questions of its ideological foundation and practice. Critiques of sport, as will be explained later, have had, as their privileged object, the Olympic movement, the IOC and the Olympic Games. For better or worse, Olympism epitomizes the essence of modern sport in a way that no other sports or sports organizations do.
If the traditional and modern legitimization of Olympism is no longer valid, indeed, if one has to talk of a situation or even an era when the concept of postOlympism is more appropriate, a number of questions arise. This is where the theme of the aesthetization of sport, and particularly Olympic sport, comes to the fore. Can the aesthetization of Olympic sport save the future of the Olympics? If the moral and functional legitimizations are invalid, can the aesthetics of the particular events, and of the Games, provide a new legitimization?
The above question introduces the idea that something is fundamentally wrong with Olympism. The question presupposes a number of critiques – that modern sports are in such a state that their philosophy and practice must be