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Quest, 2011, 63, 352-365 © 2011 National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education

Rhetoric and Power:

The Idealism and ‘Philosophy of Life’ of the Olympic Movement

Luis Javier Ruiz Cazorla, José Luis Chinchilla Minguet, and Iván López Fernández

In this article we analyze from a multidisciplinary perspective some of the philo- sophical foundations which underpin the theories on Olympism fostered by the current Olympic institutions. We start from the theory that Olympist idealism 1 is based on social representations of the modern sport, implicit to which is the ideo- logical justification for the political and social practices of the Olympic Movement (OM) regarding the various historical episodes in which it has been caught up. This idealism has shaped an inherited view of the sport which has moved beyond the ambit of the OM and into the realm of sports science, which has adopted and continues to adopt some of the postulates of the Olympist discourse when under- taking a critical review of the Olympic history and philosophy.

Analyzing the discourse 2 of past members of the OM and of institutional documents such as the Olympic Charter contrasted with historical events and social practices represents a fundamental step toward understanding the phenomenon of the OM in today’s world. One of the main distinctive characteristics of the Olympic Games and the OM compared with other sporting events and institutions is the legitimization of its social practices through a set of principles, values, and beliefs which are part of ‘philosophy of life’ which is repeatedly used as justification for the positions it has taken in conflict situations affecting Olympism. Furthermore, at no time in history have the Olympic Games been so deeply rooted in our global culture and enjoyed so much popularity as they do now. Their social, political, and economic relevance in a postmodern context 3 further justifies the relevance of carrying out scientific studies analyzing Olympism from a multidisciplinary (Segrave & Chu, 1996), historical, anthropological, psychosociological, and edu- cational perspective. We believe that an important objective of these studies should be the way in which dominant social groups in society can control how the social representations of particular objects are defined (e.g., the Olympic Games, sport, human rights); how they control general sociocultural knowledge and people’s common sense, emotions, and attitudes with regard to controversial issues; and, more importantly, the ideologies, rules, and basic values which shape and control such social representations of the public as a whole (Moscovici, 1986). There-

The authors are with the University of Málaga, Málaga, Spain.

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fore, we focus on the aspects of the Olympist discourse typically associated with expressing, confirming, reproducing or rejecting the social power of the leaders and theorists of the OM, in their capacity as members of the dominant groups (Van Dijk, 2009). Applying this author’s definition of power and discourse to our paper, we are referring to members of the Olympic institutions, political leaders, scientific journals, the sports press, education officials, and other agents that control the style and content of discourse on Olympism. This symbolic elite controls the types of discourse, the newsworthy topics, the type and quantity of information, the selection or censorship of arguments, and the nature of rhetoric, thus establishing a hegemonic cultural figure in society (Olympism over other sports figures, such as local and traditional sports culture). In this article we contextualize this theoretical approach, reviewing the institu- tional rhetoric of the OM as regards the games’ history, with a particular focus on the standpoint adopted as regards the conflict surrounding the recent Beijing games in 2008. We have taken into account theories on sport and Olympism expounded at institutional level and the discourse of some leading members of the OM, to reveal some of the beliefs, values, and ideologies which make up their social rep- resentations of the sport and which guide their social actions with regards to power structures, of which the OM itself forms part. Epistemologically, our paper adopts an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on concepts from philosophy, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and historiography. Structural functionalism, historical materialism, symbolic inter- actionism, studies of social influence processes, and other schools of thought in these disciplines are what have enabled us to approach Olympism as an institution while at the same time as social action. Throughout our discussion we have tried to adopt an integrated approach that brings together different levels of philosophical, ideological, political, and cultural analysis of Olympism as a social phenomenon. This interdisciplinary approach is reflected in several aspects. For example, in considering the social functions of Olympism in its ideological, political, and economic factors, in its role in social influence processes, from control to devia- tion, or from preservation to social change, in the interpretation of Olympism as social representation or in the analysis of the discursive practices of the OM in the context of social communication. A more specific example of this is provided from cultural anthropology by Thompson (1991). Applied to sport, this would mean seeing it as a means of reproducing the ideologies that encompass the values, social practices, and beliefs of the culture concerned. Understood in this way, sport is a symbolic construct linked to socially structured and historically specific processes and contexts, and analyzing it cannot be reduced to actions, objects, or meaningful statements, or to the power relationships in which these are found. The enclosed bibliography of the sources we have used in our paper also offers a clear example of this interdisciplinary yet inclusive approach, which we see as essential for a thor- ough study of complex social phenomena, such as Olympism and sport in general. The concept of ideology is a central theme in our paper and therefore merits clarification. This is neither the time or the place to describe the different theories of ‘ideology’ in social science, although we emphasize that in our research we have adopted a critical approach, which limits the scope of ideological analysis to the use of symbolic figures, in our case sport and Olympism, in contexts of domination and legitimization (Ariño, 2007; Thompson, 1991).

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The Idealism and Ideological Endogamy of Modern Olympism

Historically, official Olympism has adapted its philosophy to a model inherited from 19th Century German Idealism clearly reminiscent of Kant and Hegel. Coubertin himself, the ‘father’ of modern Olympism, said the following in one of his letters referring to its principal institution:

I continue to view the formation of the International Olympic Committee as excellent, based on the principle which I would call ‘inverted delegation,’ which means that the mandate comes from the idea in order to attract disciples, and not from the masses in order to create the idea. (1973, p. 5)

The essential maintenance of these foundations in their conceptualization of the sport and in the social functions attributed to it, has led to three important consequences, which are as key to how the OM is shaped and developed as they are to its social practices.

1. Ideological Endogamy and Resistance to Change

The idealist substratum which has historically underpinned the social representa- tions of the OM has caused it to ‘idolise’ its own influential authorities and to philosophize about itself, generating a sort of ideological endogamy, or resistance to incorporating new ideas and perspectives that could alter the purity of the institution’s official philosophy, which has become dogma. This trait has hindered the research, review, and updating of modern Olympism. This is despite setting up institutions such as the International Olympic Academy (IOA) and its national delegations, and the Olympic Studies Centres, which were designed to be dedicated to researching Olympism, but which are more concerned with its ‘propagation’ and ‘preservation.’ The creation of the IOA in 1961 responded to one of the concerns of Coubertin, who had already proposed in 1937 to the government of the Third Reich the creation of an Olympic Studies Centre which would defend “the whole- some pedagogy of the Olympic principles and preserve them from any deviances which have already begun to be perpetrated against them” (Durántez, 2002, p. 20). In the past, the OM has not exactly shown tendencies for self-criticism, but on the contrary has ignored evidence of social realities which conflict with its own world- view and has scorned any external questioning. As Hoberman reports, “historical interpretations of the OM have generally taken the form of either hagiographies or hagiolatries” (1995, p. 4). We are reminded that Coubertin had already proclaimed Olympism beyond ideology and, by exaggerating the merits of the OM, some Olympic historians (e.g., Betancor, 2002; Cagigal, 1981; Diem, 1966; Durántez, 2002, Gillet, 1971; Rodríguez, 2000) have given him a ‘supernatural’ status, a halo of immunity to critical analysis which makes studying the OM difficult and does not help us to understand its origin and significance. When the results of research lead to interpretations of the OM which do not correspond to those of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), these are contemptuously viewed as “a criti- cism” (Hoberman, 1995, p. 4). It has even been suggested that there are conspiracies devised by dark agents outside the sports world, as Count Baillet-Latour (president

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of the IOC in 1936) suggested to defend himself from the criticism he received for having allowed the games organized by Nazi Germany:

Sirs, you will all remember the success of the Berlin and Garmisch games [1936 Winter Games], the difficulties faced during their preparation and the efforts made to derail them.

Why did these difficulties disappear? Why were those attempts in vain? Because the International Olympic Committee applied the same meticulous- ness in defending the Olympic principles as the German authorities applied in respecting them. (Coubertin, 1973, p. 221)

2. Epistemological Isolation

An OM has been shaped which is largely impervious to the epistemological influ- ence of major philosophical thought in social science during the 20th Century, which could have enabled Olympism to update its postulates and emerge from its idealist shell, to venture into the real world of postmodernity. In contrast to the modernist conception of a static and unchanging world based on universal principles to be discovered through science, the postmodern paradigm currently adopted by the social sciences is based on three major assumptions that we believe have not been considered by Olympism theorists: reality is constantly changing, knowledge is a social construct and knowledge has social consequences. Accepting these assump- tions would entail a major change of perspective in studies on Olympism. (Cerrato and Palmonari, 2007). The problem we are alluding to does not lie in the Olympic ideals themselves (which, as in other fields of culture, have always guided human action), but in the use of such ideals to mask the maintenance of the status quo in favor of dominant groups. Hence, the Olympic ideals start to become an Olympist ideology. For example, the Olympic ideal of keeping the sport and the Olympic Games divorced from political pressure is desirable as a goal, but the use of this principle in crisis situations to legitimize a government or institution and to de-legitimize dissenting minorities, as occurred with the 1968 Mexico games and more recently in Beijing in 2008, transforms this ideal into ideology, which when expounded by the Olympic institutions helps to uphold dominant groups. Our criticism of Olympism is not based on the premise that it constitutes “a manipulative ideology whose purpose is the pursuit of power, prestige, and economic benefits” (Arnold, 1996, pp. 93-94), and does not offer a deterministic thesis on the sport. This can be demonstrated by these same examples, whereby the Olympic ideals or principles could also be appropriated by other classes, groups or ethnicities against which they were formulated or for a wider social benefit that includes the needs of emerging social groups and categories. By making this distinction, we therefore reject any a priori disqualification of Olympism, and we recognize its potential for social change and for spreading and strengthening universal values. However, we believe that these qualities are not intrinsic to it, but in our view should be explored further by the OM itself through rigorous and interdisciplinary social science research. This would stimulate self-criticism, and the revision and updating of the Olympic principles and social practices without waiting for their hand to be forced by

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historical developments as with, for example, the principle of amateurism in sport, which was a stumbling point for Olympism for almost a century. The euphemism of ‘selfless effort’ was used to defend a classist concept of sport which in practice limited the participation of the most disadvantaged sections of society. Without a wealthy family background or an income level that could support them, how could a young working class person have the time or the means needed for sports practice, for training or for the travel required to compete? But reality transcends principles that seek to constrict it. The multiple mechanisms used by countries, sports bodies, and athletes throughout this phase to circumvent the limitations imposed by the amateurism requirement are well known, but we can also put a human face on the consequences of the amateurism principle. A victim and symbol of this Olympist ideology was the American athlete Jim Thorpe (1888–1953) who was part of the United States Olympic team for the 1912 Olympic Games. Having won victory in the decathlon and pentathlon, in the latter setting a world record that would not be beaten for 17 years, he was stripped of his medals in the name of amateurism. The Amateur Athletic Union accused him of having violated the amateur status requirement for Olympic athletes: because of his poor background Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball in exchange for a few dollars and lodging. In 1950 a poll of almost 400 American journalists, he was voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the century. He died in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the IOC decided, posthumously, to reinstate his medals and include his achievements in the Olympic records.

3. Institutional Narcissism

Another important consequence, which is closely linked to those referred to pre- viously, has been what we call institutional narcissism; that is, defending oneself from external criticisms by proclaiming the virtuosity of the Olympic institutions themselves, therefore eluding any self-criticism or revision of its own postulates. This attitude was already clearly in evidence in the position taken by Baillet-Latour regarding the criticisms of the IOC at the 1936 Olympic Games, which we have alluded to previously. But we do not have to look back as far as this; a leading member of the Spanish Olympism made the following observation on the functioning of the IOC:

When the moment comes for the International Committee to make a decision, it does so without regard to anything other than that which is for the good of the institution, whose fate it has been entrusted with, with events subsequently proving it right when it emerges that the path it sought to take was precisely the right one. (Durántez, 2002, p. 16)

As we can see, institutional narcissism implies the use of discursive strate- gies designed to prevent change in the institution. Implicitly, an identity crisis is created between Olympism and the OM. The latter is presented as a trustee of the fate of the former, which has been entrusted to it by some higher agent. It is also assumes that the institution’s decisions will be free from any spurious influence,

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such as economic or political interests, since its sole motivation is supposedly the ‘good of the institution’ and it goes without saying that its members, custodians of the Olympic essence, always make their decisions on the basis of the principles this represents. Reality shall subsequently prove them right. This strategy will determine the attitude adopted with regards to external criticisms, such as those expressed in the conflict surrounding the 2008 Beijing Games. Thus, for example, as Juan Antonio Samaranch (junior), Spanish representative at the IOC, confirmed in statements to the EFE news agency:

Those protesting against the Games are not tarnishing something insignificant, but the hopes and dreams of all the world’s athletes. The Games are their fes- tival, their celebration, and I don’t know why all these athletes now have to train with the anxiety and worry of thinking about the protests which might take place in Beijing. In my view this is wrong, an injustice, but sadly I don’t believe the pressure will go away, and the BOCOG (organizing committee) and the IOC are going to have to battle with it over the next five months.

I have no doubt whatsoever that when on 8 August the whistle sounds to com- mence the first competition, the strength of the sport and of the Games will sweep away all criticisms. This has happened many times. (2008, March 25, paras. 2-3)

The defensive strategy has been the strategy most often used, also in academia, by the Physical Activity and Sports Sciences, where a surprising submissiveness has been adopted regarding this inherited view of the sport. We are reminded of the rather paradigmatic words of José María Cagigal in the foreword to Ideario Olímpico de Pierre de Coubertin (The Olympic Ideology of Pierre de Coubertin) published by the Madrid National Institute of Physical Education in 1973, in which critics of the founder of Olympism were discredited as follows:

A small sector, the least erudite and least pedagogical of the guild of journal- ism, that is to say, that which is committed above all to sensationalism, has discovered in this inspiring figure [P. de Coubertin] a cause for easy criticism, sensationalist iconoclasm, a stance which gives the impression of personality and independence of judgement to those who lack them. (p. 5)

The line of argument applied by Cagigal includes discursive strategies which in social psychology are linked to attribution through imputation and the anchoring of social representations (Jodelet, 1986). They are cognitive processes but, since they have social dimensions, they become ideological. The narrator seeks motive and thus, through anchoring, defines the category to which individuals and events belong. Instead of discussing the facts or arguments, hidden motives are sought, and to reinforce the ‘scapegoat’ or ‘conspiracy theory’ effect they resort to ‘per- sonalism’ with which they attempt to shift the cause of the facts being judged onto the subjects, rather than onto external circumstances. In the field of the theory of communication and of political communication, this manner of operating is linked to propaganda techniques (Dader, 1990).

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Ideological Foundations of Modern Olympism

Without underestimating other interpretations and perspectives of ideological phenomena, we shall focus our attention on the meaning and the use which the Olympic institutions have attempted to apply to Olympism. From a cognitive-critical theory of ideology, it is clear that since its historical beginnings in the 19th Century, Olympism has been shaped as a system of doctrinaire ideas (Morin, 1992). This interpretation is borne out by two traits which have particularly characterized it:

rationalization and idealization. Both are mechanisms by which ideologies can help to legitimatize dominance and social inequality, according to Edgar Morin, who argues that ideologies are systems of doctrinaire ideas (i.e., that they claim to be absolute and always have a mythical component). He therefore highlights these two traits as essential features of ideologies. Through rationalization, everything can be explained according to its logic. Ideology forcibly integrates reality into the logic of the system and it is believed that it possesses logic; through idealiza- tion it absorbs for itself the reality it designates, refers to, describes or explains. Newman finds an example of legitimization through a strategy of rationalization in the ideology of competitive individualism and meritocracy (a core ideology in the social representations of sport), according to which hard work is always rewarded with success. According to this ideology, poverty (also sports ‘failure’) is a result of individual responsibility; not due to lack of opportunity but to lack of ability. Therefore, competitive individualism provides an explanation for inequal- ity and ‘supports our belief that the world is a fair place’ (Newman, 1995, p. 307), encouraging individuals to believe that they can control their destiny. Edgard Morín (1992) makes a distinction between rationalization and rationality. Rationalization is a logical system for explanation without empirical basis, while rationality strives to link coherence with experience through critical, but also self-critical, reflection. True rationality is open to and interjects with a reality that challenges it, due to a constant interaction between the logical and empirical; it is the result of a reasoned discussion of ideas. True rationality is able to recognize its shortcomings. Just as Hegelian philosophy viewed thought (conscience) as the essence or element which reveals and creates reality, the principles of Olympism, and the actions of its institutions and leaders as regards the recent crisis surrounding the 2008 Beijing Games, have made clear that the OM maintains a view and philosophy of sport which is anchored in outdated idealist presumptions.

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 and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. (Comité Olímpico Internacional, 2007, p. 11)

The rudimentary and deliberately ambiguous ‘philosophy of life’ proclaimed by the principles listed in the Olympic Charter, to which the Olympic leaders refer repeatedly to justify their stances when these contradict social reality, suggests that for the leaders of Olympism it is the ‘thinking’ which determines and governs the ‘being’ of reality, rather than the other way around. This theory is one of the basic assumptions of Idealism, for which the human being is fundamentally spirit, a

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spirit whose essence is governed by its self-consciousness, a notion which derives in turn from an ‘abstract’ and unreal view of the human being. This view was later refuted by historical materialism with arguments which are still valid today, such as that the human being cannot be identified by a general human essence or ‘nature’; the individual is historically conditioned by their interaction with their physical and social environment, by the requirements of productive work: they are a social and socially-determined entity. Their ‘nature’ is defined by the conditions of the society in which they exist. For this reason, idealism came to be seen as an ideological tool for the bourgeoisie, whose objective was simply to justify the prevailing forms of exploitation. From these idealistic premises, the social representations of the modern OM incorporate an ideology that is contradictory in its approach to the relationship between sport and politics. For example, the idealistic principle of absolute separa- tion between politics and sports, while classifying real-world problems (inequality, exploitation, lack of freedom, human rights violations, etc.) as ‘political issues,’ creates an Olympism that is transcendent to the evolution of social reality and isolated from its surrounding historical context.

Olympism and Power:

The Political Asepsis of the Sport

As was made patently clear during the conflict surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olym- pic Games, official Olympism is seen as an ideal which, for its leaders, finds itself denied by the political and social reality. This represents an opposition between Olympism and social reality, in which the latter represents pure negativity, and according to the directors of the OM should be brought into line with the principles of Olympism to acquire a positive ontological status without losing its idealist character in the process. This is the philosophical basis for the political asepsis of the sport upheld by the OM. We interpret political asepsis as the procedures used by the OM to keep sport and the Olympic Games free from the ‘pathogenic’ influence of politics. The ideological nature of that stance and its implication for power and domination relationships derives from two factors: firstly, from a misconception of sport, since as a social phenomenon sport is essentially political and cannot remain isolated from its historical context; and secondly, from the same application of these procedures to ensure the political asepsis of the Olympic Games. The historical episodes we have analyzed show that these procedures are applied in some cases but not in others, according to patently political criteria. At the root of the problem is the obsolete social scientific theory regarding the relationship between politics and sport that is used by the OM. All processes of social influence, irrespective of the nature of those processes (social control, conformity, deviance, social changes, etc.) or of the social agents involved (power, majorities, minorities, dominators, dominated etc.) are categorized under the generic and pejorative concept of ‘politics.’ Admitting the existence of social influence does not mean human being are victims of social ebbs and flows, nor that they must express themselves through any type of imposition or coercion (in many cases it occurs through subtle persuasive methods). In any case, as Canto (1994) warns, the difficulty of detecting these processes is the best sign of their effectiveness.

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In the case of the Beijing Olympic Games, for example, far from stimulating social change in the direction prescribed by the principles of Olympism, the OM has acted as ‘firewalls,’ helping to maintain the global structure of which it forms part. Jaques Rogge stated the West should stop the human rights protests against China (Blitz, 2008). By the same token, during the controversy surrounding the route of the torch and the protests against China, J. A. Samaranch (president of the IOC when China was awarded the Olympic Games in 2001) stated the following:

We have to understand the Chinese in order to know how far we can go in asking something or negotiating with them. They are very sensitive. Furthermore, they do not need any lectures on international political relations. We hope that the route of the torch, which cannot be changed now, ends as well as possible. When the Games begin it will all be forgotten. (2008, April 13, para. 2)

Note the meaning of the statement “they don’t need any lecture on interna- tional political relations.” This discredits the right of the international community to require a country to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, in addition to concealing behind the euphemism of ‘international political relations’ an explicit reference to the true focus of the debate: human rights breaches by the Chinese Government and its lack of respect for its citizens’ fundamental freedoms. Alejan- dro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), also defended this position very clearly in an interview with a journalist before the 2008 Games:

J. Another point to be settled is whether athletes are allowed to demonstrate their support for human rights during the Games.

I. There is a concern among athletes about what they can or can’t do on the basis of the Olympic Charter, and it is therefore necessary to set boundaries, in order to avoid a penalty or provoke controversy. Standardisation is good for everyone. (Paíno, 2008, paras. 8-9)

In any case, Olympist ideologists see human rights as a factor which contami- nates the immaculate purity of the sport. This apolitical-spiritual view of the sport, derived from the principles of Olympism, justifies the OM’s phobia of any sign of social deviance in a sports context and places it alongside power in processes of social influence, thus discrediting the Olympic institutions’ ability to act as mediators in the resolution of conflicts which emerge regarding the Games or to act as promoters of education, as set out in the Olympic Charter. This consequence can be easily illustrated by multiple quotations from the Olympist discourse, but the following appears to us to be one of the most eloquent, due to the number of issues it covers:

I have always classed Olympic boycotts as a vulgarity. Staging a boycott means

knowing that the people doing it have no idea what they are


these manipulations by politicians are out of place and


politics to politicians and the Games to the athletes. They should not interfere in the Games because [politicians] have enough ways of putting pressure on countries, but they should not touch the Games, these are for young people. (Durántez, 2008, paras. 3-5)

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The manifest contradiction between the principles of Olympism and the actions of Olympic institutions during the China crisis makes the Games a legitimizing agent of the inequalities and political restrictions in contemporary Chinese society. For example, the constant reference by Olympic leaders to a vague theory of change without any empirical basis, “China will be much more open after the Games” (Samaranch, 2008, April 7, p. 21), has been offered to people as a false hope and used to demobilize social agents that demanded real change: “they are a catalyst for change, not a remedy for all illnesses. We believe that China will change once it is opened up to the world’s gaze, through the 25,000-strong media attending the Games” (Rogge, 2008, paras. 1-2). The ideological contradictions of the naive idealism of Olympism and its social consequences can be extended to other areas where the OM has tried to broaden its activities, as various authors have made clear, in the field of peace (Reid, 2006), in education in values (McNamee, 2006), in environmental protection (Loland, 2006) and in multiculturalism (Parry, 2006). In education, the consequences are quite clear. The attempts of Olympism to assert its influence on Teaching and on Physical Education have been clear since it began, and remain explicitly set out in the Olympic Charter: “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised in accordance with Olympism and its values” (Comité Olímpico Internacional, 2007, p. 13). According to Binder (2001), despite his personal efforts, Coubertin had to acknowledge that in his final years the IOC was unable to promote an educational program in practice. A similar criticism is made by Torres, who states that the theo- ries of the father of Olympism are in some cases educationally inconsistent, such as the contradiction between the principle of rewarding participation over results and the Olympic motto itself: ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Torres, 2006). In any case, the IOC’s traditional concern has always been more focused on the technical and orga- nizational aspects of the Olympic sports, rather than on their educational potential. In the current historical context, Olympism suffers from inflexibility and disconnection with the reality of its own stereotypes. In a pioneering paper on the theory of communication in 1922, Walter Lippman rather eloquently linked the ‘philosophies of life’ to the various consequences which can stem from the premises of these philosophies, particularly when outlining stereotypes which influence social action. His theory could be borne in mind as a starting point for a review of Olympism’s philosophy of life, particularly when formulating stereotyped ideas and in preparing for a change of philosophy according to a particular social reality:

What is really important is the nature of the stereotypes and the degree of

If our philosophy tells us that each

human being is a small part of the world and that his intelligence is only capable

of capturing a limited number of phases and aspects within a narrow range of ideas, when applying our stereotypes we would have to accept them for what they are and give them the consideration they deserve, and be prepared to modify them. We would also have to detect, with increasing clarity, when and where our ideas originate, how we arrived at them, and why we decided to accept them. (Lippmann, 2003, p. 88)

credulity with which we apply

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With regards to the relationship between knowledge and social action, between Olympism as an idea and the social functions of sport, there is a lesson for the present which we can extract from the criticism Marxism once made of Hegelian idealism and which is perfectly valid for the Olympist ‘philosophy of life’ and its attitude to social conflict. Only through scientific understanding of a particular social reality (i.e., making the essence of the object which conditions them intelligible) does the social being have the real possibility of succeeding historically in conceiving and achieving a new world, thus arriving at an understanding of themselves. In short, these are two premises which are today fully assumed by all social scientific schools of thought (Ruiz, 2008), but which sometimes seem to be ignored by the OM. Firstly, individuals’ capacity for reflection (we are not sheep in the hands of institutions or of power), and secondly the reciprocal, nonmechanical nature of the social-sport interaction, since influence processes in sport, as in other social spheres, are multidirectional. This is true even when there is an unequal power relationship, in terms of ability to influence the other, as is the case for a minority influence seeking innovation and social change (e.g., dissident groups at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). When the minority effect is confronted with the apparent homogeneity and uniformity of the targets it seeks to influence, on gaining their influence through conflict resolution this usually comes to nothing, and almost always with a delayed or even an unconscious effect (Canto, 1994).


The idealist foundations of modern Olympism have been its stumbling point, pre- venting it from adapting to social change and restricting its capacity to respond to the different historical conflicts with which it has been confronted (we have referred to the most prominent of these, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the 1968 Mexico Games and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). Olympism’s potential to spread and promote universal values such as human rights, ecology, solidarity and respect for cultural diversity is enormous, but it is not something which comes automatically, but which depends on how these ideals are used and on the specific strategy of ‘universalisation.’ In essence, this strategy consists of promoting the individual interests of an institution, or a social group, such as the general interests of society, the country or the world as a whole. It can be interpreted as a strategy of mystification and upholding dominance as an ideological mechanism that helps to legitimatize relationships of control and social inequality. However, it can also be used by the dominated or emerging groups, as seen in the 1968 Mexico Games, or more recently at Beijing 2008. The fact remains that whichever group frames their own interests within a universal perspective will be affected by this Universalist logic. For example, fundamental classist values such as freedom, justice, and fraternity, advanced in the late 18th Century by the revolutionary bourgeoisie, were not explored exhaustively by this particular origin. On the contrary, the fact that the values (or Olympic principles in this case) were presented as universal values implies that they can be appropriated by other classes or ethnic groups, even against those whom they were formulated, and for a wider social benefit, and that there is no limit to their application by an

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institution or specific regimen, but that they are potentially open and available to include emerging social categories and needs. Ideologically, the OM and Olympism have fulfilled a social function of main- taining the social structure and the dominant political and economic groups of each historical period. Analysis of the discourse used by the OM, particularly in times of conflict, reveals clear use of rhetorical strategies such as rationalization, idealization, and universalization to fulfill the aforesaid maintenance function. Proselytism and propaganda in schools, universities, and the media are habitually used to legitimize their social practices. The most commonly used strategy in their social communications is that of referring to the sources and arguments which reassure them, avoiding or discrediting those which question or refute their own postulates. All this aims to reinforce attitudes which have already been shaped or to confirm choices already declared in their idealist interpretation of the sport and of social reality. The problem of the objective value which can be attributed to official Olympism does not represent a theoretical problem (nor a philosophical one), but a practical problem of a political nature. It is in praxis that Olympism must demonstrate its principles, such as the real-world applicability of its ‘philosophy of life.’ Knowl- edge of the social world must take into account a practical knowledge of that world which preexisted it and which must be included in its purpose. Those who abandon the active aspect of knowledge to idealism forget, as Pierre Bourdieu stated, the constructivist dimension of knowledge about the social world:

and that among the conditions for existence and the practices or representa- tions there is also the structuring activity of the agents which, far from reacting mechanically to mechanical stimulus, respond to callings or threats from a world whose meaning they have helped to create. (1998, p. 478)

The ambitious transformative objectives expressed in the Olympic Charter require Olympism to be permanently in touch with social reality, and for there to be a rethinking of the strived for but impossible goal of the political asepsis of sport. This principle has now emerged as being too vague and generic. It is an ideological cocktail where, through sport, political propaganda is placed on the same level as the defense of human rights. The OM should reformulate its approach, conducting a review of its concepts, objectives, and limitations, from a critical, interdisciplinary perspective that is open to all political and social stakeholders. We have referred to the historic lack of fluid communication between sports science and social science, and we want to end by reflecting on this issue, an area in which we believe there is much that remains to be done. Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, and Sports History have an interesting field of research in the adaptation and application of theories and methodologies from their sister sciences to the study of the sports phenomenon. Social representations of sport and of Olympism, how ordinary people build their knowledge of sport; differences in discourse on sport between institutions, the media, and educators, its implications for social practices on health, inequality, violence or human rights, the influence of the internet and new communication technologies on sport as a cultural phenomenon; the impact of globalization on local and traditional sports culture; the ideological implications of

364 Cazorla, Minguet, and Fernández

sport on social and political conflicts, their connections with economy and consump- tion, etc. These are some examples which we believe can open up promising areas of future research from a interdisciplinary and multimethodological perspective, the results of which could revolutionize the theory of sport and generate significant changes in the sports policies of governments and institutions, such as those of which the OM forms part, and seek to serve the interests of society as a whole.


1. The qualifier ‘Olympist’ rather than ‘Olympic’ was seen as more appropriate, since it better

reflects the proselytizing tone the OM gives to its postulates.

2. Our definition of discourse is in line with Iñíguez (2006), who defines it as a set of linguistic

practices that maintain and promote certain social relationships. According to this definition, discourse analysis involves exploring how these practices operate in the present by maintaining and promoting these relationships: highlighting the power of language as a key and regulating component.

3. ‘Postmodernity’ is a periodizing concept popularized in social science from the 1960s

onwards. It tries to correlate the emergence of new formal traits in culture with the emergence of

a new type of social reality and a new economic order: what is known variously as postindustrial, consumer or media society, or simply as globalization.


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