The current issue of The Philosophers’ Magazine features a fine forum on sport, with a number of philosophers of sport weighing in (ahem), just in time to prove that even the Olympics can be a source of philosophical inspiration. Here’s an article by Jim Parry, visiting professor of Olympic studies at Gresham College no less, called ‘The Philosophy of the Olympic Movement’. He goes into some detail about the philosophical underpinnings of the modern games (there’s a lot I didn’t know about that), but he makes a particularly interesting point about the fundamentally ethical nature of sport. He writes,
It is difficult even to state the characteristics of sport without relying on terms that carry ethical import, and such meanings must apply across the world of sports participation. Without agreement on rule-adherence, the authority of the referee, and the central shared values of the activity, there could be no sport.
Somewhere behind the sponsorship deals, security concerns, drugs testing and large personalities, there’s the founding ideal of the modern games: the promotion of a certain set of values, including co-operation, respect and what Parry calls ‘mutual valuing’. The Games went to Moscow, and who knows, maybe that had a little to do with the wall coming down. Perhaps something good rubbed off at the Beijing Olympics. Maybe we could do with the injection of such values here in London too.
So what do you think? Is sport a fundamentally ethical practice? When the Olympics come to town, does it have good effects on human rights, tolerance, and other sorts of values in the host country? Do athletes and spectators alike walk away better people for having taken part or looked on? Are the Olympics part of a real push towards peaceful internationalism? Or is it all a huge waste of time, money, and lycra?