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Olympism: What Is The Philosophy Behind The Olympics?

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at July 23, 2021

What is the point of the Olympics? The economic benefits are questionable. The games are rife with controversy and cheating. So is it as simple as a non-violent way for your country to get bragging rights? The real answer is something more philosophical.

The ancient Olympic games, beginning in 776 BCE and ending sometime around 393, could almost be classified as a religious ceremony. Just like all happenings in Antiquity, the cause or genesis of the Olympics can be traced back to Mount Olympian and the gods. Although there are a variety of different myths that tell the tale of how the Olympics came to be, all relate back to Zeus.

One such story claims Zeus’s father Kronos and his brothers created the games in order to entertain the baby Zeus. Another tells that Hercules, son of Zeus, created the games to honor his father. Accepting that these are just stories, there are also historical and archeological facts to back up the ancient games’ religious undertones.

The statue of Zeus in Olympia was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It served as the backdrop for all opening, closing and award ceremonies. Furthermore, ending the games in 393 is largely credited to the destruction of the temple of the Olympian Zeus. There was no purpose to continue the games if who they were honoring was gone.

Skip ahead 1,500 years and the modern Olympics begin in Athens in 1896. Aside from the World War years of 1916, 1940, and 1944, they had been a constant every four years. Starting in 1992, a constant every two years. However, just like seemingly every other event that was scheduled for 2020, that consistency came to an end last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although there has been plenty of criticism from athletes, the media, and Japanese citizens about continuing with the games this year, the Summer Olympics opening ceremony at the nearly empty stadium in Tokyo happened this morning.

Given the reasons why the modern Olympics have been cancelled in the past, maybe the goal or benefit of the modern Olympics is international camaraderie. For this reason, the games ought to happen this year. Do not just take my word for it though.

In the official document of the Olympics, the “Olympic Charter,” before outlining the rules of the games and who may be eligible, the document begins with an explanation of the concept ‘Olympism.’ By looking at the fundamental principles of olympism we will see that peace and social solidarity is at the center of the modern games.


Page 12 of the 106-page Olympic Charter defines olympism and lists the fundamental principles of it. The first 11 pages of the document is the table of contents. So if we’re looking at priorities, the idea of olympism is No. 1 to the Olympics as a whole. 

This is a place that the well-established corrupt International Olympic Committee (IOC) ought to look at. Given the organization’s history and countless examples of individual cheating, it appears as though too many have forgotten what they games are really about.

Encyclopedia BritannicaEncyclopedia Britannica

More than likely, you’ve never heard this word before. Anecdotally, I am an Olympic fan and tune in to nearly every event, whether it be the summer or winter games. Olympism is an entirely new concept for me.

Given the placement of it on the games official document, this should seem rather odd. The preamble of the United States Constitution is memorized by nearly all American elementary school students. Why isn’t the idea of olympism more widely known and preached?

Well, what exactly is olympism?

The charter explicitly lays it out. It is said, “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

The charter goes on. “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

Finally, it ends by stating that to practice sport is “a human right.”

Plainly, many of these themes appear to be presently be missing from the Olympics.

For starters, the Olympics leadership are certainly not treating the participation in the games as a right. One such example is American Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer. She had to withdrawal from the Olympics not because of any of her conditions but because her personal care assistant was not permitted to go to Tokyo with her.

With a long history of accepting bribes to determine the games’ location, it would be very hard to argue that the IOC and the rest of the Olympic leadership attempts to show “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

If the goal of Olympism—and thus the Olympics—is to promote a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity, it is time to actually sprint the sprint, so to speak. And, the 2021 Tokyo games are the perfect place to start.

The world is badly in need of a good example of social responsibility. With the plethora of role models who participate in the Olympics and the wide audience that the games receive, the athletes can and should practice olympism. Let’s just see if the leadership allows them to do so.


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