Saturday, 29 September 2012

Tom Brown's Schooldays and the Olympic Games

Before the first modern Olympic games, held in Athens in 1896, there were regional “Olympic festivals” motivated by various ideologies and consisted of an amalgam of sports, for example, the 1850 Wenlock Olympic Class, a small village in Shropshire had tilting, football, quoits, cricket and fun events such as a wheelbarrow race (Toohey 2007 : 32).

The motivation for holding the Olympic festivals involved a valuing of the perceived glory of the ancient world and a belief of the intrinsic values of playing sport, often associated with a militant nationalism, such as "fitter men of the nation will mean the nation is more successful at war", for example. The Olympic ideal was that people were motivated to  play sport due to its intrinsic benefits, thus the compeditors were amateurs. It was associated with a “Muscular Christianity” which held the value of “a sound mind in a sound body”, comparable to the ideals of moral and physical development found in “Tom Browns Schooldays” by Thomas Hughes, a ex-pupil of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School who extolled the virtues of “Muscular Christianity” (Toohey 2007 : 31). The Ideal of Olympianism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. It blends sport with culture and education. Creating a way of life based on the joy found in effort, educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles (Toohey 2007 : 42). Thus the early Olympic festivals were attempting to revive a somewhat fictional memory of the Greek Olympic games that were to embody the “Muscular Christianity” found in “Tom Browns Schooldays”.

The Modern Olympics grew out of the correspondences of individuals holding local “Olympic” events and the first attempt to internationalise the “Olympic” festivals was Dr Brooks of the Much Wenlock Olympics in 1881 who attempted to organise an Olympic festival in Athens. This attempt failed but the Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who met Dr Brooks in 1890 while organising an international congress on Physical Education managed to fashion a Olympic revival which culminated in the 1896 Olympic games in Athens.

Hosting the Olympics Games is now seen as a great opportunity for revenue, economic development and urban renewal (Shoval 2002 : 584) and since the 2008 Olympic games has become a “mega event” (Gold & Gold 2008 : 300) thus there is much competition amongst potential hosts. For the initial Modern Olympic games held in Athens in 1896 the instructions were written in French, at the time French had a history of being the language of diplomacy and high culture within Europe and thus had significant linguistic capital. The London bid for the 2012 Olympic Games won over the Paris bid in July 2005. The London bid won in terms of the cultural resources that London could bring, comedians, actors, monarchy with a rhetoric of urban renewal and infrastructural development to areas of the city.

For the 2012 Olympic games, French was selected to be one of the official languages of the 2012 Olympic games, it was used to introduce the games, it took precedence during the presentation of medals and was used in other ceremonies, was present on “billboards and pageantry” and used for signage and commentary. This was a requirement imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as part of the conditions for hosting the 2012 Olympic games. The motivations behind this may reflect an awareness of the linguistic dominance of English, thus attempt to introduce a degree of linguistic pluralism and also be a nod toward the history of the Olympic games.

Gold, John R. & Gold, Margaret M. (2008). Olympic Cities: Regeneration, City Rebranding and Changing Urban Agendas. In Geography Compass. Volume 2, 5. Pages 300 -318.
Shoval, N. (2002). A new phase in the competition for the Olympic Gold: the London and New York bids for the 2012 Games. In the Journal of Urban Affairs. Volume 24, 5. pages 583 -599 

Toohey, K & Veal, A.J. (2007). The Olympic Games: A Social Science Perspective. Published By CAB international. Pages 31 & 42.

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