Originally, Νενικήκαμεν! Phonetically, Nenikékamen! Or simply, we have won! That was what Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, exclaimed after a non-stop 42k run from the city of Marathon to Athens… just before collapsing and dying. As was well understood by Shakespeare, “All the word is a stage […]” and with the same grandeur of a Greek tragedy the Olympic Games were born.
The celebration of human physical might is clearly expressed by the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (from the Latin; “faster, higher, stronger”); nevertheless, maybe as a way to avoid sports arenas being transformed into battlefields, a counterpoint motto was quickly created – “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” Both are from the same person, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic games.
In about a year from now the greatest sporting event of mankind (besides Carnival in Brazil) will take place in the UK and we are all very excited to see who will be the fastest, highest and strongest athletes; which country will have the largest number of gold medals; how good the London opening ceremony will be compared to previous ones; how remarkable the architecture of new stadiums will be; how much money the event will bring to the British economy, etc…
Analogous to this situation might be the anticipation of a celebrated arts exhibition, where similar expectations are created and its purpose highly speculated. So, was Guernica really a protest against Franco’s dictatorship or simply a bullfight and, are the Olympic games just about sports or more about international affairs? If every action has an ulterior intention, then what is the best message sports can give to address our present reality and future generations?
There are several examples of people using sports to bring prosperity, for example the Facebook page “Stop-War-Start-Tennis”, or those many people who go on bikathons in order to raise funds for different causes. Since the last World Cup all the national football teams sponsored by Nike had their uniforms made out of recycled plastic bottles; now it is almost a mainstream among other brands, clubs and sports. At the forefront of innovation Nike has also started a massive sneaker recycling project as well as designing the most sustainable pair of shoes, the Nike Considered.
Although the above practices address some major issues they are not really changing status quo. For example, the famous 1914 Football Truce when German and British soldiers had a Christmas break from the trenches to play football. The Homeless World Cup can be said to be football’s contribution to the 21st century, by selecting and training homeless people to form a team and go to another country to play football. The excellent documentary Kicking It shows it in more detail.
As Nelson Mandela knows, sports have the power to change the world and inspire people, which is what the Laureus foundation does by recognising the achievements of today’s sports heroes.
In this sense, just like art, sport is representation. Its development is parallel to that of ideas, hence civilisation. The introduction of the Marathon to the first modern Olympic Games in Athens had little to do with what actually had happened centuries before but with a pop-francophone cultural movement called Fin de siècle (end of the century). The suggestion to include the Marathon in the Olympic Games came from Michel Bréal, a French philologist and intellectual, and found a comforting space in the mind of French pedagogue and historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In this sense, French cultural hegemony was the driving force that also decided against the modern Olympics always being hosted in Athens (its 2nd edition in 1890 was held in Antwerp).
Historians have nicknamed the current decade as the “teens”, when the current generation will have to go through growth pains to reach maturity. It is undeniable that the collective agenda runs around the UN’s Millennium Goals and “sustainability” is the word that summarises pretty much all it intends to achieve. Although there are plans for The Bubble to replace the UN due to its inefficiency, there’s still hope that world leaders can contribute to such a feat.
So what legacy will sport leave to future generations? The answer is again to come from the way we currently represent society. Looking around, the signs are quite clear as is their gradual acceptance. Intelligentsia would call it postmodernism. I’m going to say we’re in “Da Hoodism”: the newly invented term could represent a combination of subcultures that together are emerging from urban medium-lower income pockets of creativity. It sounds like electro-pop, looks like Banksy and moves like… parkour. In this sense, parkour or free-running is the emerging form of “spArt” (sport + art) that could score some of the Millennium Goals.
How? If hip-hop replaced violence with melodies of protest and street-art is creative destruction, parkour puts sound and image together through a liberating circus delivery. Construction areas, parks, shopping malls, and streets become the stage for these feline-like performers sweeping punished spaces with beautiful and innovative plasticity. The magic lies in the fact that the more people relate to something the more empowered they want to protect it, and if we want to protect an increasingly urbanised and polluted world, then free-running ourselves out into the streets is the best avenue to exercise our civil rights. Maybe “smOrt” (smart + sport) entrepreneurs could come up with a new version of the first energy generating dance floor in Holland for the world’s upcoming free-runners…
This is the nature of the solution: a combination of sport, fun, engagement and urban regeneration. From this point it’s up to athletes to get out and inspire others: for London it could be short notice, but during the 2016 Rio games it would be great to see a little free-running sweeping the anger, violence and poverty down the favela hills to classy Ipanema.