The Olympic Day celebration — how significant is it in 2016?

OlympicPeace Emblem made from the IOC Digital Campaign

June 23 is a very significant date on the global sporting calendar. It is the‪ #‎OlympicDay, and as such, the sporting fraternity and many people across all continents celebrate this day with passion and zeal. It is a day reserved to celebrate the power of sports and its potential to change the world.

This is no academic paper. I am writing purely from a passionate sport administrator’s point of view and as an ardent fan of sports in general, the Olympics and the Paralympics. Having worked in the sports sector across diverse fields, I decided to add my voice to this global sport celebration and also shed more light on its significance and my hope for its future impact.

I thought it would be appropriate to do some reflections since I couldn’t actively engage in this year’s festivities. So here goes;

First, let’s dive into the yore period of ancient Olympia and how the Olympic Day was birthed. Pierre De Coubertin, a French historian and educator conceived the idea of reviving the medieval games into the present Olympic movement. In 1894, he received massive support from a core of 12 countries to revive Olympic Games and subsequently instituted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Paris.

Hence, he is stately revered as the father of modern Olympics. They adopted the motto: ‘Citius’, ‘Altius’, ‘Fortius’ which translates from Latin as, ‘Faster’, ‘Higher’ and ‘Stronger’. The movement then adopted the values of ‘Friendship’, ‘Excellence’ and ‘Respect’. Then came the need to promote these Olympic ideals through the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) for it to spread across the world.

Successively, a ‘World Olympic Day’ was adopted as a project during an IOC session in January 1948. The first celebration of the Olympic Day would later be held on June 23, same year. Nine countries including; Austria, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela marked the maiden edition in their respective countries.

As a matter-of-factly, the Olympic Day was birthed to promote the Olympic movement, engage the youth to get active and educate the masses about the Olympic ideals. It was recommended that NOCs organize various events to celebrate the day. Since 1987, NOCs have been organizing ‘Olympic Day Run’ to promote sports for all. The goal is to promote a wider participation in sports regardless one’s age, abilities, race, gender or culture.

In Ghana, for instance, the erstwhile NOC under BT Baba’s leadership held these annual Olympic Run events and has been a tradition into present years under Prof. Francis Doodo’s led administration. The annual Olympic Day Run was one event I dearly anticipated. It was fun and engaging.

Olympism, I believe, from my perspective is akin to metanoia. That is how sports make you feel.

Now, let’s leapfrog from the history into modern Olympic movement. Presently, the IOC reports more than 150 NOCs have actively engaged in the Olympic Day celebration and reached millions of people.

Moreover, the celebration has expanded from the usual ‘Runs’ to include educational activities, cultural activities, healthy movements whiles involving NGOs in/not in sports, UN agencies, governments, corporate institutions, international sponsors, media and other stakeholders.

It is also noteworthy that the Olympic Day is based on three fundamental pillars in achieving its goals. 
 “Move”, “Learn”, and “Discover”. The day advocates for everyone to get physically active by ‘moving’ from our sedentary lifestyles. Olympic Day should also create the platform for people to ‘learn’ about the Olympic values and the Olympics philosophy. It defines how these values can be an important tool to tackle social issues like peace and gender empowerment.

Furthermore, the Olympic Day asserts that, young people can use the occasion to try new adventures, new sports they have never done before and reach out to others.

The #OlympicDay is also a presage to the quadrennial Olympic Games. Torch relays, active communities’ engagement, Olympic day run are associated with the Day in these modern times. The advent of social media in recent years have added an impetus to the global campaign of Olympic Day.

In his 2014 address on Olympic Day, the IOC President Thomas Bach highlighted that, “the Olympic Day campaign touched some 400 million people in one way or the other across multiple-platforms”. That is an impressive feat for the Olympic Movement.

Every year, the IOC launches a unique theme in a build-up to mark the Olympic Day, as with other projects. 
 In years past, renowned Olympians like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps have been poster ambassadors in the Olympic Day campaigns. They do not only serve as roles models but agents of change and advocates of motivating the young ones to get into sport. Some of the past events can be seen on the IOC website here; Olympic Day events.

This year’s celebration is themed with the hashtag “OlympicPeace” because Olympic Truce is at the heart of the movement. And one of the strategies is to intensify its digital campaign on social media to outmatch the past figures. Tacitly, people across the world are encouraged to participate in this campaign and make their own peace message on the IOC website and share across sociak media.. You can also create your story of Peace from here; ‪#‎OlympicPeace

This move happens on the heels of a year plagued with doping scandals, war/displaced/conflicts, financial crises, riots and protest, rough-and-tumbles at EURO 2016 matches, athletes bans, country ban, corruption scandals et al.

The Syrian conflict that erupted last year shoved a wake-up call to governments at large, to recognize the need to take action, as many refugees and displaced people fled to seek shelter in Europe. The IOC showed compassion by pledging a US$ 2m fun to assist in its humanitarian efforts of alleviating the plights of young ones, who could as well be playing sport.

To consolidate their pledge, the IOC pushed for the ultimate creation of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team who are bound to compete in the upcoming Rio Olympics. The goal is to “act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis when they take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016 this summer” — an IOC statement reveals.

Ten refugee athletes from different countries have been selected to represent the Refugees Olympic Team and would be participating under the Olympic Flag. That must be serendipitous for these athletes. Whoever thought they could one day be participating in the Olympics? Again, sport defines possibility and this is a clear case study. The news has since received a global welcome and we hope the intended goal is met.

On the flipside, I actually didn’t feel the energy that often characterized the Olympic Day, this year. But one goal is for sure. Everyone of us has a pivotal role to play in preaching peace, backed with actions. The rhetoric needs to go in tandem with cogent actions. It should sink deep into the grassroots. To the ordinary kids, the ordinary youth, the ordinary Joe walking across the street.

That is how far the message of Olympism, the message of peace, harmony, human spirit, message of togetherness and inclusive abilities should transcend.

The day should not only be about getting active and preaching peace. We need to intensify the campaign to be more educational such that, we can teach young people about the essence of the Olympic values and how they could imbibe them into their personal lives. We have to take the Olympics to the doorsteps of schools, social centers, organizations, religious institutions, governments, private sectors, the media, sponsors every corner of the globe.

And this is the moment we have to make it happen. Not tomorrow. It has to happen NOW. Essentially, the NOCs other stakeholder and organization must come to fore to collaborate to make this wish a reality.

Sport is an interplay of the different tenets of life, and if utilized well, we could be realizing the words of the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela when he said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite…”

Perhaps, isn’t it about time we instituted a Paralympic Day to celebrate possibilities and inclusion of people with impairments and any form of disabilities. This agenda, I will wholeheartedly commit to see it come into fruition if considered by the International Paralympic Committee, World Governments and other stakeholders.

Until then, I am playing my part, to make the world a better place, through sport. Let’s do this together and unite to achieve the Olympic dream. Pledge for Peace, Pledge for #OlympicPeace.

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