Laying Olympism to Rest
Kevin B. Wamsley
In the early years of the twenty-first century, the multibillion dollar Olympic Games remain sufficiently intriguing to the sport entertainment connoisseur. In spite of, or perhaps due to, the numerous crises, real and imagined, over the past hundred or more years, the games have become entrenched in what might be referred to as the global imagination – a contrived cultural space positioned as the pinnacle of athletic competition. Further, the games have been carefully orchestrated to portray ‘high’ values, ethically and morally situated above such competitions as the World Cup of football and US professional sports. And, certainly, given this, and its long, firmly entrenched history of controlling and organizing international competition, the IOC will have considerable influence in the shaping of sport for the foreseeable future. The ‘core value’, raison d'être, the fundamental tenet historically invoked as the essence that separates the Olympics, elevates it beyond all other sport competitions, is ‘Olympism’. From the writings of de Coubertin, to the Olympic Charter, to the popular promotional rhetoric of today, Olympism remains the marker of distinction, a deified space once shared only by the notion of amateurism. But to suggest that a common global understanding or one underlying philosophy is responsible for the popularity and resiliency of the games and, thus, the long-term sporting influence of the IOC, would be a tremendous overstatement. People are attracted to the games for a multitude of reasons well beyond the scope of any singular study. My purpose here, under the guise of post-Olympism, is to provide a social critique of the notion of Olympism and the idea of the Olympics with respect to some of the more prevalent and contentious historical and current issues, to argue that in many respects the two are incongruous and to show how, during the twentieth century, the nebulous concept of Olympism became the structural apologetic for the Olympic Games.
Officially, the IOC's Charter promotes the idea of ‘Olympism’ as the guiding philosophy of the games and the cultural infrastructure that supports them (IOC, 2003) and further a philosophy of life that promotes a balancing of body, will and mind. These Fundamental Principles listed in the Olympic Charter provide