Olympic Lens

This post was written by Andy Milne. He is the 2017 National Health Teacher of the Year and all around amazing individual. He is always looking at the world through the lens of equity. Take a read.

The quadrennial behemoth that is the Olympic Games is the sporting celebration that can be everything to everyone. Depending on the lens through which you view the Games, you’ll notice things, have different views and experience the event in ways different to others consuming exactly the same events.

If you’re a traditionalist, like me, you view the Olympics through an Ancient Grecian lens, admiring the efforts of those athletes competing in ‘traditional’ sports. There’s something very Olympian to me in the sports of boxing, wrestling and marathon running. None are sports that I watch at any other time of the year but somehow they just feel…so very Olympic. For someone like me, if I can’t envisage the winner of a sport being painted on the side of a Grecian urn, then it doesn’t feel right. For someone like me, there is no place in the Games for tennis, golf, and skateboarding.

If you’re a modernist, perhaps you view the Games through a lens that embraces professional athletes, and want to see the best performers, from the biggest and most exciting sports, irregardless of wether they personify the original Olympic spirit. “The size and scope and riches of the 21st century Olympics are a far cry from how the games began, and there’s no going back. Few people seem to want to. The spectacle is hypnotic.” Amateurism restricted the spectacle, watered down the performances, and stopped the global audience of over 3.5 billion from seeing those at the peak of their athletic brilliance. The modernists among us might find Olympic events such as race walking, dressage, shooting and fencing boring, and lacking in entertainment value.

Perhaps you see the Olympics through an inclusive and inquisitive lens, embracing the stories behind the performances. You enjoy the trials and tribulations that broadcasters tend to lay on thickly, so that we get caught up in the emotions of the competition. You might relish the fact that world number one Ash Bartey lost in straight sets in the tennis. You’ll appreciate the story of San Marino (population 33,000) winning it’s first ever medal in women’s trap shooting, and you’ll be inspired by Simone Biles and her placing mental health above all else. Like the IOC, you’ll root for weightlifter Laurel Hubbard and her “courage and tenacity” in becoming the first transgender athlete to compete in an Olympics.

I recently posed a question on twitter to see what people thought in terms of the sports on display during this summer’s Games. The responses got me thinking.

You’re allowed to replace one Olympic sport.

What are you dropping and what do you add?

— Andrew Milne (@carmelhealth) July 26, 2021

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My suggestions, remember I’m more traditional, were to drop skateboarding – it just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel Olympic enough.

I also suggested dropping golf – those multi-millionaire athletes don’t ‘need’ the media coverage that comes with being part of the Games. Plus, they get to play all year round, travel the globe, and always seem to be on TV.

Finally I suggested dropping some of the gymnastic events. The two weeks of Olympic TV coverage has felt like Groundhog Day. Same events. Every different day.

Sports I suggested adding included squash, similar to racquetball but played more widely. Bowling could replace golf – both are target games and bowling is more accessible than golf. I also think that 3v3 basketball (what’s the point in that?) should be replaced by Netball, which is huge in the Commonwealth and is a game gaining in popularity here in the States.

Twitter had some fun with my question with Ultimate Frisbee being a popular suggested addition. Spikeball was popular, so too was ‘tag’. Pickleball, cricket, futsal, orienteering, and tchoukball also received votes in my unofficial poll. Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg also joined in the fun, suggesting the addition of Horse Crip Walking as a new event.

While this is all in good spirits, it took days before the Twitter suggestions eventually went in the direction that I had hoped. You see, the sports that were suggested seemed almost like-for-like. Replace one widely played North American/European game with another widely played North American/European game. The Olympics has a murky history of elitism, sexism and racism and although it would be highly unlikely that the Games would do so, I think it would be awesome if the IOC were to use their global reach to embrace indigenous sports.

To those people that suggested that tag could become an Olympic sport, I recommend that they check out Kabaddi, an ancient Indian game now popular in many South Asian countries. It’s actually the national sport of Bangladesh and is played in the Asian games (current champions are Iran.)

Like your PE curriculum, the Olympics has it’s fair share of invasion games in basketball, field hockey, soccer, handball, and rugby sevens but wouldn’t it be cool if the IOC were to follow the suggestion of @Physed2020 and introduce Gaelic Football. Not only is it unlike any other team game that you’ve seen, it’s perhaps truer to the Olympic spirit than other sports in that along with hurling and camogie, Gaelic football is one of the few remaining strictly amateur sports in the world.

Drop the big professional sports and add Gaelic Football and Wallball!

— RYANEd (@Physed2020) July 27, 2021

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As someone who has written about my desire to decolonize my PE curriculum, I have had much success in researching the history of indigenous Maori games from New Zealand. I loved this suggestion from @pouakotom when he suggested a game that teachers such as Sarah Gietschier-Hartman and Seth Martin have introduced to their students here in America. The Maori sport of Ki-O-Rahi combines elements of rugby and handball, two existing Olympic sports.

Drop dressage, add Ki O Rahi! #wishfulthinking

— Pou Tom HPE (@pouakotom) July 29, 2021

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Did you know that there is in fact a World Indigenous Games?

When I posed this question on Twitter, I was talking about the Olympics, but really I was also talking about your PE curriculum. Is your PE curriculum full of the same activities that you received when you were a student? When I said at the start of this post that the Olympics can be everything to everyone, is that the case for your Physical Education lessons? How about when viewed through an immigrant lens, a non-white lens or the lens of a student with disabilities?

To conclude, if I were to make one change to the Olympic Games I would remove the equestrian events – alien to almost all viewers, dominated by a handful of countries and requires a horse (!!). I would replace equestrian with a team sport growing in popularity, is fast and entertaining, and is the oldest sport in North America (dating back to the 1400’s). Lacrosse make for an exciting addition to the games, it would place this Indigenous game on a global stage, and I would also invite the Iroquois Confederacy to field a team, just as they do at the World Lacrosse Championships.

If you are interested in exploring global games, you should check out this amazing resource collated by Sarah Gietschier-Hartman. You might also like Teaching World Games the blog post in which I shared my journey towards teaching the Maori game of Tapuwae.

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