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With the benefit of hindsight

July 5, 2011

Last Thursday someone at The School of Research someone asked me to explain what my essay was about and I sort of didn’t say anything. I probably should have said something like this:

The Olympics are a cultural event. By cultural event I mean that people who go to the Olympics are experiencing something more than people competing against each other at sport. Why else would people pay stupid amounts of money to watch sporting events they’ve never heard of and probably never watched before? Why do opinion  polls across London support the Olympics despite the crazy costs, the lies and a supposedly shoddy logo? Why are artists so keen to comment on it? If it isn’t a cultural event, why is the opening ceremony the most watched event of the Games? Why were the games originally imagined as a festival of sport, education & culture and prior to that as a vehicle for peace? Why is the Olympic story written through with struggles of minorities for acceptance and an equal footing in society?

Through the Olympics, by hook or by crook we learn about ourselves and other people. The Olympics becomes part of our culture, it comes with its own culture and in many ways it’s made by and with culture.

I think this is the most significant about the Olympics. All the bad things, that Iain Sinclair so eloquently critiques – the state sponsored massacres, the empty promises, the corporate sponsorship, the vanity architecture, the boycotts, bombings and the rest are only possibly because the Olympics has a deep connection to people and are a cornerstone of our shared global culture.

It is this understanding of the Olympics as a ‘cultural event’ which gives it the potential to be useful for education work with young people and schools. Which I think, after last week, is basically three things.

1) Using the Olympics happening in your city as a way to explore yourself, the city you live in and your relationship to the world. This is basically the Biglop programme..

2) Finding people who are trying to be in the Olympics and meeting them in different ways.

3) Using the fact that the Olympics are happening in your city to make something. By commenting on something, documenting something, organising something. A bit like with the Headstart programme.

Lots of people would probably say that the Olympics isn’t a cultural event with a connection to people – they’d say it’s the vicious and cruel projection over people. It’s delivered by a corporate entity, protected by an act of parliament, that controls who accesses the games and who benefits from them and who can use them. How can the people have a connection to the Olympics if they can’t even use the world Olympic? Using the Olympics for education and peace isn’t possible when the value of the games is protected and sold to the highest bidder etc etc

But so what. The Olympics for the time being is-what-it-is. Even if those things are true we can’t change them now. And if we want to change them, the only way to do that is to offer an alternative. We’ve only got a year to go, and I think at A New Direction we still have a chance to find an approach to learning and the Olympics that could be used in future Olympic cities.


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