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Post-Olympism

Questioning Sport

in the Twentieth Century
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International Seminar, 9th-11th September 2002


Abstracts of Papers

Troping Along: An Historian's View of Olympic Scholarship

Douglas Booth

Notwithstanding the ambiguity accompanying early scholarly analyses and popular uses of the term, social theorists increasingly agree that post' best connotes a condition of reflectiveness. Added to olympism, the prefix post thus implies an occasion for reflecting on the experience of the modern olympic movement and games. But just how well have sport historians reflected on the olympic movement in the context of new questions, new methods, and new theories associated with the likes of post-modernism and the linguistic turn in history? In the mid-1990s, John Hoberman referred to the stagnation of 'serious study' with regard to the olympic movement. He attributed this problem to the 'seemingly endless debate between the defenders and detractors' of olympism. These debates, which invariably degenerate into polemics, have not receded and the contributions by historians remain remarkably limited in an area rich with potential. Drawing on aspects of the linguistic turn in history (especially the emphasis on narrative and voice) and contemporary theories of change (notably post-Fordism), this presentation proposes some new directions for historians seeking to contribute to olympic studies.

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Citius, Altius, Fortius - a critique and a reinterpretation

Sigmund Loland

The Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger) stands as a credo of modern high performance sport. This chapter articulates and criticizes from a systematic, ethical point of view three ideal-typical interpretations of this motto.

First, in the cynical interpretation, the quest for improvement and growth is not linked to sport at all. Sport is a mere means to maximize external pay off in terms of prestige and profit of various kinds. The cynic does not acknowledge as meaningful ethical reflection of sport at all, a fact that in itself represents an ethical problem. Second, in the narrow interpretation, sport is considered the paradigmatic case of the infinite potential of human beings. Citius, altius, fortius is understood as a quest for quantifiable improvement of sport performances with no restrictions on means other than a requirement on equal opportunity in the competition itself. One problematic consequence here is that sport turns easily into grand scientific experiment and struggles between total systems of material, technological, scientific, economic, and human resources. Third, in what is called the deep interpretation of the Olympic motto, the concern is not with human performance as an abstract idea but with qualitative growth of particular human beings. The interesting question is not linked to the limits of human performance, but to what individual athletes and teams can perform in particular competitions in particular settings based primarily on their own talent and efforts. In this way, sport is considered to have a potential for developing self-knowledge and morality. The Olympic motto can be justified on ethical grounds.

The cynical and the narrow interpretations of the Olympic motto are not unusual in current Olympic sport. One reason is the very logic of competition in which the goal is to outperform all other competitors and win. Another reason is the high external rewards that come with victory. The cynical and the narrow interpretations represent rational strategies. In the final part of the paper, I explore how structural changes have to be made to make the deep interpretation a more viable alternative. A series of practical examples are used to demonstrate the need for a replacement of ideals such as standardization and accurate measurements of performances, based on basic abilities (strength, speed, and endurance), with ideals such as equal opportunity to perform technical and tactical skills measured by non-accurate sport-specific entities such as goals, points, and rankings. Such structural changes could make Olympic sport a sustainable and ethically justifiable practice.

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"What's the Difference between Propaganda for Tourism or for a Political Regime?" The 1936 Olympics in World Perspective

Arnd Krüger

Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics movement, was asked in a press interview after the Berlin 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany what he thought about them. Coubertin replied: "What's the difference between propaganda for tourism - like in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 - or for a political regime? The most important is that the Olympic movement made a successful step forward."

The chapter will discuss this "step forward" showing how the Nazi Propaganda Ministry made use of the Olympic Games to further its ends at home and abroad. The particular means of the Propaganda Ministry will be discussed. Special emphasis will be placed upon the United States, as this politically relatively neutral country, made all the difference between an internationally successful or unsuccessful Games, being the number one sporting nation in the world. It will be attempted, however, to look at all of the 49 participating countries (and the two non-participating acknowledged National Olympic Committees). The relationship between German government, German and international sporting bodies will be discussed, looking at the special role of Carl Diem and Theodor Lewald and of Avery Brundage, Sigfrid Edström and Pierre de Coubertin in this context. Although the paper will focus on the Summer Olympics the special role of the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (as a test case) will considered.

The chapter will be placed in the international political context of the time 1932 - 36. It should not be overlooked that anti-Semitism at the time was not only a Germany phenomenon and that appeasement was the international policy of most nations in that period - judging from hindsight of the Second World War and the Holocaust, does not meet the historical reality of 1936. This will be shown in the field of sport by other major international events and particularly by the question of where the Olympics Winter and Summer Games of 1940 were planned to be staged.

Finally, the H. Bernett-J.M. Brohm controversy - whether the humanistic Olympic ideal was distorted by the Nazis or whether they are inherently proto-fascist and therefore were celebrated in its "finest tradition" will be taken into consideration.

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Accelerating Olympism: The Poetics and Problematics of Nano, Virtual, and Cyborg Sport Technologies

Synthia Sydnor

In this paper, I apply readings of the future as forwarded by thinkers such as Paul Virilio, Mark Pesce, Giorgio Agamben, James Gleick, and Graham Ward, to specifically identify and describe the possibilities of attainable future Olympic sports, especially in the 'cyber,' 'virtual,' 'nano,' and 'motile' realms. I consider these possibly 'new' Olympic sports in light of classic definitions of Olympism. Philosophical understandings of velocity/speed/acceleration especially frame my discussion of the freedoms and also the problems that such technolgocial 'advances' bestow upon global institutions such as Olympic Games.

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The Aesthetic Dimensions of Sport

Søren Damkjær

Post-olympism refers to a situation where a number of sociological, ethical and aesthetic aspects of Olympic elite sport have changed to create of new situation. The concept of post-olympism is coined in the same way as post-modern and refers to a process of de-legitimisation or an emptying of the contents of the original and modern foundations of Olympic sports, leading to a new situation of erosion of the modern sport ethics. The sociological facts will consist of commercialisation, professionalization, corruption, scientific body-modification and/or medicalization.

The sociological changes affect the ethics of sport. Deprived of the modern values of sport, the ethics of the post-modern situation are looking for a new ethical foundation. If this ethical foundation cannot be found, the legitimisation must be sought for in the aesthetic dimensions of sport. In short a de-legitimisation of modern Olympic sport and perhaps a search for a new legitimisation in the post-modern aesthetics of sport.

Sport has a number of aesthetic dimensions, without being art in the rigorous sense of the concept. There are many ways of categorising sport. From an aesthetic viewpoint there are two main categories: The 'clean and hard' sports, and the sport disciplines where a form of evaluation is at play. The 'clean and hard' sports directly incorporate the standard of winning and losing. These are track and field events; soccer and American football are examples of clean and hard sports. Of course the judgement of umpires can be involved, even wrong decisions, but this is of minor importance.

My first thesis is that these forms of sport have their own aesthetic character. It could be called the aesthetics of the event. But in a number of sport disciplines the evaluation of the character of the exercises is crucial. These could be called evaluative sports. Typically there is a standard for technical execution and a standard for artistic expression. This is the aesthetic of exercises, making up the second thesis. In an Olympic and Post-Olympic context the coexistence of the two forms, the aesthetics of event and the aesthetic of exercise, pose a problem.

If the sports of the event are degraded and rendered problematic by doping, unfair competition, commercialisation etc., will the exercise-sports save the postolympic games? Or more generally speaking, can an aestitization of Olympic sports save the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games. Will an aestitization provide a new legitimisation of Postolympic sports, and consequently, at new rationale for the politics of the games?

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Drugs and the Olympics in the Context of Aesthetics

Verner Møller

The Modern Olympic Games have grown continuously ever since they began in 1896. It is often maintained that sports in general and the Olympic movement in particular is in crisis. This view has been fuelled by the many doping scandals during the past twenty years. The paper will argue, however, that is not sports or the Olympics that is in crisis but the Olympic idea and the idea of sport as educational. Therefore, to understand the schism between the public repulsion toward the sporting practice ­ expressed in media, in politics, and in organisational initiatives like WADA ­ and the continuing increase in public attraction to excellent sports performances that are manifested in spectator interest when big events are launched, we must turn the attention to the aesthetic quality of sports. That is to say that the driving force behind sport is the opportunity it offers athletes to create and express themselves, in coherence with the public's inclination for spectacles and mythologies.

As long as these needs are in force, sports and the Olympics will have its foundation intact despite athletes use of doping, corruption scandals etc. What threatens the Olympic Games is not the scandals but instead the Olympic Committee's tendency to draw heavily on the Games success by sports inclusion and prolific expansion, a tendency which the new president Jacques Rogge is aware of and has decided to stop.

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Olympic Legacies: Sport, Space and the Practices of Everyday Life

Douglas Brown

This paper proposes a humanistic model for researching and interpreting the quality of Olympic Games legacies. By doing so, I am deliberately applying triple meaning to the theme Post Olympism. First, I argue that scholars in the 21st century need to study sport and the Olympic Games with a great sensitivity to its cultural and humanistic context. Fundamentally, I am suggesting that we need to accept, expect and 'play-up' the irrationality and unpredictability of sporting culture. Second, I argue that studying Olympic Games as a meaningful cultural phenomenon is virtually impossible without a broader understanding of the Games relationship with the everyday lives of the athletes, hosts and spectators who constitute the event. Third, I propose a way of gathering and interpreting data that addresses the significance of Olympic Games and Olympic legacies at a community level. I will discuss a long-term research project that focuses on the sporting community of Calgary after the 1988 Olympic Winter Games packed up and left town. This ethnographic project attempts to identify and interpret the 'Post Olympism' effect on a community. More specifically, this project explores the meaningful relationships that emerge between a well-maintained and well-used sporting facility, historical imagination and the everyday practices of a sporting community. The initial focus of this study is the Olympic Speed Skating Oval in Calgary. Life histories of athletes who use this Olympic facility provide in-depth narratives where subjects have the opportunity to reflect and contextualized their sporting lives with the facility and the memory or knowledge of Olympism. Athletes of all abilities and levels of commitment to sport are represented in this life history project. Drawing on the theories of Michel de Certeau and Pierre Bourdieu, a preliminary hypothesis can be articulated. The everyday comings and goings at this high performance Olympic legacy facility indicate that structural remnants (physical, administrative and ideological) of an Olympic Games do not retain the universalizing, homogenizing or totalizing effects of sport espoused in the fundamental principles of the Modern Olympic Movement. Rather, the individuals who use this monolithic structure as part of their sporting lives seem to employ tactics and strategies that dissolve, ignore or negate many of the social and cultural strictures that critics of modernity tend to identify with sport and the ideology of the Olympic movement.

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Olympism, Post-Humanism and the Spectacle of 'Race'

Ben Carrington

Recent discussions within cultural theory have addressed the possibility of constructing new foundations for a universalism that can avoid the erasure of particularity and cultural difference. This chapter addresses Paul Gilroy's (2000) recent arguments for a 'cosmopolitan humanism' that seeks to transcend the classical liberal humanist position. The notion of 'Olympism' is traced as a possible exemplar of a global cultural space within which supranational modes of identity formation have, at least in principle, been made possible. In this context connections are made between the epistemological positions of Olympism, Cosmopolitanism and a reconfigured account of Humanism. Using a case study of the modern Olympics, and in particular the last Sydney Olympics, the chapter suggests that whilst contemporary media culture, and particularly aspects of its global-popular such as mega-sports events, can in limited ways, be seen as arenas that produce post-racial formations, the dominant narrativisations still serve to re-articulate 19th century notions of absolute racial difference, grounded in ideal body types. That is, whilst Olympism would appear to offer public spaces through which appeals to a new humanist politics might be forged, the over-determination of narratives of both nationalism and racial exceptionalism render the project of a credible post-anthropological humanism problematic.

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China and Olympism

Susan Brownell

The last century has been characterized by the rise of modern nationalism, modern physical education, and the revival of the modern Olympic Games. These events are all part of the larger processes of globalization that have brought China and the West into increasingly intense modes of interaction. The spread of the Olympic movement in China has been one of these realms because the Olympic Ideal or Olympism, the label applied to the ideology promoted by the IOC, is portrayed as having roots in classical Greek culture and as crystallizing some of the best elements of Western civilization. Chinese people are very conscious of the identification of Olympism with Western civilization and they view its dissemination in China as part of a process of synthesis and exchange between Eastern and Western civilizations. Only two Summer (Tokyo and Seoul) and two Winter Olympic Games (both in Japan) have been held in nations that do not trace their roots to the Western civilizational heritage. In July of 2001, Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games. Looking forward to 2008, this paper reflects on what kinds of changes the Olympic Games might bring to Beijing and to China, and what kinds of changes China might bring to the Olympic Movement. Will Olympism change China, or will China change Olympism? It asks the question: If the Eurocentrism that currently dominates the Olympic Movement loses its strength, then what will the Olympism of the future look like, and will the label 'Olympism' still apply?

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The Global, the Popular and the Inter-popular: Olympic Sport between Market, State and Civil Society

Henning Eichberg

When the Olympic Games took place in Sydney 2000, the organizers placed a boomerang into the centre of the Game's logo. This casting instrument from pre-colonial times was presented as symbolizing the idea of 'multicultural games' and "cultural diversity in an harmonious society which is nevertheless united in its patriotism". The culture of the Aboriginees should enter into "the image and the identity" of the games. For this purpose, a National Indigenous Advisory Committee was installed, including representatives of the Aboriginees and the Torres Strait Islanders. Besides the logo, the native Australians should also play a role in the Olympic festival of arts, in the protocol of the Olympics ceremonies, in the torch run, and in the design of Olympic medals, and there should be organized an especially sponsored training camp of native athletes.

On the other hand, there is no boomerang cast in the sportive program of the Olympic Games. Olympic sport is not only an arena of symbolic action, its is also 'real' sport. And in this field of activity, not only the Aboriginal contribution is missing. Olympic sport is Western sport.

From this, some fundamental methodological questions arise about the relations between ideology, organisation and social-bodily configurations in sport and movement culture. Some of these questions were raised in 1984 by the article "Olympic sport - neocolonization and alternatives". But how will they be seen 20 years later? Globalisation and no alternatives?

The methodological approach of my study will be

- praxeological, i.e. starting from the material base of body culture rather than from the rhetoric and symbolic fights on the surface of the ritual, and focusing on the configurational patterns of Olympic sport,

- to ask for the identitary dynamics of movement culture, i.e. the socio-psychology of nostrification - saying "we" by bodily practice,

- to pay attention to the contradictions inside actual society, the logics of market, state and civil society.

In this perspective, the discourse on Post-Olympism does not produce prophecy, but rather scenarios of possibilities and probabilities after classical modern Olympism.

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Laying Olympism to Rest

Kevin Wamsley

At both theoretical and substantive levels, the term post-Olympism projects a chronological inference or more blatantly a displacement of values, symbols, a structure of beliefs. It announces that the idea of Olympism is open to scrutiny - further, whether it is relevant in the 21st century. Arguably, it is a reasonable point of departure to ask if the notion of Olympism ever meant anything. Certainly, Pierre de Coubertin in his time, and thousands of Olympic disciples since, including athletes, coaches, sport leaders, volunteers, and sponsors, have all staked claim to a set of beliefs collectively known as Olympism. By default, the Olympic Games were the historical venue for the celebration of Olympism; thus, it can be shown that many such values dissolved from the outset. Indeed, historical scholarship denied the logic of Olympism some time ago. Yet, these values are repeatedly and systematically invoked throughout the 20th century. If the sentiments of Nietzsche's criticism of Christianity are instructive, that it is unable to live up to its own ideals, then perhaps a similar, but more historical, scrutiny of the so-called philosophy of Olympism is useful. Has the trading of these values on the commodities market by the Samaranch regime signalled the death of Olympism? Or was its obituary from the Brundage and Coubertin eras long overdue?

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Making the World Safe for Global Capital? The Sydney 2000 Olympics and Beyond

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj

An examination of protests organized in Australia before and during the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic Games reveals unequivocal solidarity between anti-Olympic and anti-globalization critics. Such developments marked the beginning of new and emerging alliances between these two international protest movements. Subsequent events in Salt Lake City and in Vancouver and Whistler (when Vancouver was bidding for the 2010 Winter Games) provide further evidence of the strength of these alliances, and reflect activists' critiques of the Olympic industry's role in global capitalism and its exploitation of people and environments.

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Sportive Nationalism and Globalization

John Hoberman

Sportive nationalism is the doctrine that promotes sportive success in international competitions as an instrument of national self-assertion. The explicit content of this doctrine is the claim that triumphant athletes promote national prestige. Implicit in sportive nationalism is also the more urgent idea that victorious athletes are indispensable symbols of national vitality who contribute to the survival of the nation through role-modeling effects. In this sense athletes can function as demonstrations of national willpower or sheer efficiency.

Sportive nationalism appears to be entirely compatible with the globalization process if we define the latter as a gigantic competitive arrangement that rewards sheer performance and efficient technique. It would appear that national victory is the ultimate incentive and reward in a global system of competitive events that confer prestige on the winners.

A closer examination of the relationship between sport and globalization shows, however, that the combination of sport and the globalization process produce social and political consequences that the "sheer performance" model would not predict. For example, the global labor market for athletic talent confers a de facto dual citizenship on elite athletes that frequently devalues service to the nation in favor of service to professional clubs. The same labor market subverts the racial concept of nationality by integrating "racial aliens" into national teams (Gerald Asamoah in Germany, Emmunel Olisadebe in Poland). The globalization of sport can produce sportive enthusiasm without sportive nationalism (soccer in India) or sportive enthusiasm for a rival nation (Japan and South Korea), Training methods and management principles of foreign origin can challenge and undermine national values and traditions. Sportive nationalism can end up promoting political ideas, such as individualism, that are customarily regarded as consequences of a globalization process that favors denationalization rather than nationalist self-assertion. Finally, the globalization of sport creates venues for the display of non-athletic performances demonstrating national competence, such as the provision of technology or expertise, that confer prestige on national contributions to an internationalist project that are not grounded in the idea of competitive succes.

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The Future of Multi-Sport Mega Events

Richard Cashman

Since 1930, the first soccer World Cup, there has been a proliferation of world cups and world championships in individual sports and the celebration of great festivals of sport every two or four years has become more commonplace. Such events are sharply focused and branded: they have a tightly-focused programme and appeal to a particular sports market. The drama of the event builds up over five or six weeks to the final climax at the concluding closing event. The Olympic Games, by contrast, draw on an older concept of sport: the program consists of a loosely-related amalgam of sports a veritable smorgasboard similar to the world fairs, of which the Olympic Games were part in 1900 and 1904.

The Olympic Games diverges from the pattern in an emerging global world of sport. The Opening Ceremony, which contains no sport, is the highlight of the Games as anthropologist John MacAloon has noted.Although the Olympic Games benefits from powerful symbols and branding, the nature and rationale of the Olympic program is not sharply focused or defined and is, at some points, contradictory. The Olympic Games continues to carry some sports because of tradition that have limited global appeal.

By examining how the Olympic Games developed its program as a multi-sport event, this chapter will consider whether there has been a clearly-stated rationale for the Olympic program, or whether the program of this multi-sport event has been stitched as much by pragmatism and politics. The chapter will also consider whether such inconsistencies and contradictions will be inherently detrimental to this event in the future.

Consideration will also be given as to whether there exists a core program that might provide a sharper focus for the Olympic program.

This chapter will address possible future threats to the status of the Olympic Games from single sport events: the inherent contradictions within the Olympic program and the related issue of gigantism. Perhaps, too, the ceremonies that make the Olympic Games distinctive can be copied by other mega-events.

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The Disneyfication of the Olympics: Selling the Spectacle

Alan Tomlinson

The Olympic Games sells itself as the most prominent recurrent global event in the contemporary world. Combining a focus on elite performance and athletic excellence with a principle of universal participation, it claims to represent peaks of human endeavour whilst fostering international friendship, peace and harmony, and to cultivate new generations of internationally tolerant young people. It classicizes itself by claiming connections and a pedigree linked to the classical cultures of the past. It is in the context of such a set of values that I want to explore more sceptically the nature of the event itself, focusing on the Sydney Summer Olympic Games, and my experience of those Games in Sydney and its environs - as flaneur, fan, investigative researcher, media observer and critical social scientist. In doing so I will consider the parallel experiences of the leisure consumer in contemporary consumer culture, and assess the extent to which it makes sense to talk of the Disneyfication of the Olympic Games.


Edited by John Bale, Mette Krogh Christensen and Jens-Ole Jensen,

University of Aarhus

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