On being wrong.

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The results of a group work project where the olympic charter was used to fulfill identity stereotypes.

A mere 7.5 days to go until the end of the postgraduate session here at the International Olympic Academy. As we approach the home straight, a week of philosophy and ethical debate, we (the participants) are afforded the opportunity to to reflect on your experiences and our (now-‘informed’) interpretations of olympism and the olympic charter. Which is great if you found yourself travelling towards a direction that approves of the benefits of olympic education and the likes.

For me, what little support I had for olympic education is on critical low levels – where at the start of my PhD I was indifferent about the olympic movement – it was something that people who liked sport enjoyed. Later, after reading the key literature about the olympic movement and the media, I was surprised by how huge an event this was and the lack of interest in studying/discussing the media in this space – so found media technology to be my focus on research (hence the topic of my paper I submitted of the IOA) – and, importantly, that you could study the Olympic Games without touching the sport *at all*. Which is good – considering the amount of hoops that you have to jump through just to be exposed to it (think the olympic tickets lottery in London for instance – I didn’t get any, which could have been problematic if I was to focus my PhD on the access to a type of sport.)

So I thought new media and technology would be my *safe space* – that is, I use the Olympic games as a lens to access/understand the fast paced changes to media technology  – as the Olympics happened every 2 years, you can use set timeframes to describe what happened then and during the event – rather than attempting to grab a moving target.

But the thing is with new media is that it exposes you to alternative ideas, narratives, the fringes of discussions to the dominant, mainstream media narratives that have made it all to easy in the past to focus on key ideas that have framed the modern olympic games since the beginning (the charter for one) and consistant focus on sport – as if it is a non-political entity, free from critical engagement. I could not help but be affected by the ‘other side’ of the olympics that I was uncovering – if I was to ignore them, then I would be actively ignoring a huge and gaping hole in my research. I mean I *could* just study how the IOC are now using twitter – but that again would support the under-criticised power of the IOC and their ability to fold subversion back into the system.

Two years of working in this space has *changed* the way I think and how I consider myself in society –  by un-picking the Olympics, something that I was previously not bothered by (or could understand the extent of the impact it has on communities, countries and internationally), has let to unpicking other things (such as education and politics) – as if I can finally find the words to express the “whys” of how I am feeling much clearer and with more social and political context. This is the path I have found myself on – and now I find it hard to just accept what I am being told. So to be told that universal Olympic education is a thing that we should be working together in achieving – all I can ask is “Why?” 

Now – this isn’t me saying “no, this is wrong.” this is me asking about the assumed status of those within the room. From what I gather, there are three things that are being assumed on our behalf when we are receiving our lectures from the visiting professors:

1) That we all think that sport is a morally good thing. That is bonds us across communities and it should be considered as something as powerful as saying it is a ‘human right’. The act of sport is a human right

2) That we see the idea of Olympic education as being a force to carry the message of sport and to help build an understanding that sport is a human right. All people of the world should hear this message and the best way to do this is through education.

3) That through participating in an olympic education program, we are are all advocates for the olympic education movement and will return to our country to spread the universal messages of Olympism. This is why we are here.

If I was going to be skeptical about this, I would say that, yes, this is the truth and I would write off what is being said on the basis that I have found myself at some missionary religious sect and my criticism/questions is the same as walking into a church and telling them that their god doesn’t exist. I’m not going to do that – because I do not believe that this space is simply a space of indoctrination.

Last week for instance, I found a friend (and an allie) in one of the visiting professors who, despite being ‘pro-olympics’ was anti-olympic education (at least in current guise). And that is a crude binary that we are working on – in many ways, I could be considered pro-olympics (those from the Vancouver Media Coop – through me working with cultural olympiad projects – certainly thought so), but I would like to think that it is more complex than that – which is why I will not write off the IOA as borderline cult phenomena. If it was, I would not be here – unless I am only here to be bullied into submission through living with, socialising with and studying with olympic peers. On the bad days, the days when I miss having my support around me, I certain feel that way. 

But I have to remember this is a controlled environment – and probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to the boarding school experience. Despite ages ranging from 22-40, and the insistance that we are called ‘participants’ – not students – and we collectively refer to the teachers as “professors” – there is definitely power relationships that I have not felt since the days of walking out of english class aged 16 and never going back. We are here to be learned something – that’s why 80 percent of the lectures are the powerpoint version of 60 mins of chalk-and-talk followed by a strict 15 minutes for questions (apparently to get us used to international conferences – ha!) – we are told what we should be thinking about topics such as multiculturalism – not being asked to discuss it. In the exercises that do involve student participation – we are separated into groups in order to find common ground about topics such as the olympic charter – an appropriate way to facilitate group discussion so the key learning outcomes are addressed in a timely fashion.

Perhaps I would expect this in an undergraduate seminar (which I’m beginning to disagree with now I am back in the classroom as a student, rather than a teacher) but as a roomful of graduate students, it boggles my mind that some of the ideas are so blindly accepted. Of course, if there is only one, now pretty unpopular, person vocalising questions (I emphasis questions, not opinion – I don’t think I have actually told anyone what I *really* think of the games since I’ve got here – only asked questions) then I can see why it is not appealing to break out from the community. 30 days is a long time to be away from home – especially when you are not only studying/debating with people, but you are living with them. If this was a conference, I would probably not sacrifice so much of myself for the subject area (both in class – and online, where I feel that the only place I can talk about it is on twitter – despite being entirely public and the easiest platform to be taken out of context.) 

But really? This is about me being wrong – being told that my attitude to the materials is incorrect, that my ‘limited’ view point on the world is restricting my understanding of the wider picture, that I simply don’t get the importance of sport in the context of global solidarity. You are right. I am wrong. I want to be wrong. I want to be wrong about neo-liberal assault on the values we hold so dear to us. Wrong about how corporations use such an idealistic philosophy to peddle exploitation on behalf of their own profit. I want to be wrong about education being nothing more than a training ground for the labour market. I want to be wrong that governments are using things the olympics to push other agendas to the global stage, something that is more important than looking after their citizens. Being wrong is ok.