A true Olympic spirit that extends way beyond sportsThe International Olympic Committee is widely known as the organization behind the Olympic Games. Far less is known about its work to bring the joy of sport to people who could never aspire to compete on a global stage.
Guided by the belief that sport is a human right, the IOC supports a wide range of initiatives to encourage sport and physical activity for people of all ages and abilities.
One of the most popular events is Olympic Day, a global celebration that commemorates the founding of the modern Olympic Movement in Paris on 23 June 1894.
Nearly four million people in over 150 countries took part in Olympic Day activities last year, and participation is expected to increase this year. In some ways, Olympic Day is the polar opposite of the Olympic Games. It is a celebration of inclusion that is open to everyone, and there are no set requirements for the featured activities.
Although Olympic Day Runs have become a popular annual event in communities around the world, other activities have included tricycle races, group exercise sessions and backyard games - whatever it takes to get people moving. Some countries have incorporated Olympic Day activities into the school curriculum. Others have added concerts and exhibitions to the sports activity.
Olympic Day does not look like the Olympic Games, but there is a strong connection. Both are rooted in the belief that sport and physical activity are essential elements of the human experience. Both bring people together. Both seek to inspire others to engage in sport. Both provide a platform for promoting Olympic values.
Because Olympic Day typically attracts young people, it is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the Youth Olympic Games - a unique event that combines sport, education and cultural programmes.
Other IOC initiatives promote grassroots sports in communities that would otherwise have few options for organized physical activity. The IOC has also joined forces with international organizations, such as the United Nations, to use sport as a tool for development, conflict resolution, HIV prevention and other positive social goals.
A three-year IOC collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is bringing the joy of sport and the benefits of education to a refugee settlement in Namibia, where 40 percent of the population is between 10 and 30 years old. The project uses sports to educate participants on healthy lifestyles, gender equality, and the prevention of pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.
The list of similar projects is long. All of the IOC’s varied activities in this area are guided by the belief that sport is for everyone, not just the elite athletes at the Olympic Games. The Games will always be the centerpiece of the Olympic Movement, but every human being, regardless of ability, can benefit from sport and physical activity.
Gold medals are great, but health is its own reward. So whether you are an Olympian, a weekend athlete or someone whose connection to sport is mostly via television, we encourage you to get active on Olympic Day. Enjoy whatever level of physical activity fits your ability. If you do, you will be a sure winner.
* The author is president of the International Olympic Committee.
by Jacques Rogge