Olympism – a Philosophy of Sport?

Authored by: Heather L. Reid

Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Sport

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415829809
eBook ISBN: 9780203466261
Adobe ISBN: 9781134119141


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The philosophy that underpins the Olympic movement is generally referred to as “Olympism,” but it is far from clear exactly what Olympism is, where it comes from, and where it takes itself to be going. The purpose of this chapter is to explore those questions, beginning with a discussion of whether Olympism can legitimately be called a philosophy at all. The second question addressed is whether Olympism constitutes a philosophy of sport, or rather is a philosophy informed by sport – specifically, values intrinsic to sport which support the larger goals of the Olympic movement. One of these values is that of human excellence, but it can be hard to discern exactly what is Olympism’s idea of human excellence. Olympism also touts the value of education through sport – specifically the educational value of good example, but it needs to be made clear what these examples are and how they are expected to educate. The values of justice and athletic fair play are also affirmed, but they face the challenge of diverse ethical views within international communities. This leads to the political ideal of a world community and the question of how the Olympics might promote it without falling into the traps of hegemony or homogenization. Given the movement’s grand social and political goals, Olympism can appear inadequate as a philosophy. This inadequacy, paradoxically, may be the secret to Olympism’s success.

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