Abhinav Bindra Foundation illustrates how Olympic values can boost a nation in post-COVID world
The Abhinav Bindra Foundation hosted a webinar on the necessity of Olympic values in civil society and proposed ways of promoting the Olympic spirit in every strata.
The Olympics may appear as a quadrennial event but in all fairness, the impact and importance of an Olympics stretches much beyond and instead, encompasses the whole of the timeframe spent between one Games to the other. India's very first individual Olympic gold medallist, former shooter Abhinav Bindra, through his non-profit endeavour, the Abhinav Bindra Foundation desires to raise awareness and impart the spirit of the Olympics with the help of a series of enriching and enlightening webinars.
The landscape of sports has dramatically transformed over the past year with the global pandemic forcefully making us rethink about life as we knew it. Just like life which became an easy victim to the virility of the virus, sports was also not saved the blow and cowered with the encroachment of the pandemic that slashed down tournaments, postponed events galore including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics itself, for the first time in the history of the Games.
As much as we may try to continually make peace with the 'new' normal, what needs to be accepted at the outset is that the pandemic has brought in certain permanent changes that need us to react appropriately to it as well. Sports is no longer the same - what was once unimaginable like an Olympics without an audience eerily had to come true in Tokyo - things have changed and the most alarming aspect of the pandemic has to be the overall reduction of physical activity of the people.
In efforts to address such pressing issues and promote the cause of the Olympic movement as a whole and profess the need to adapt to the Olympic mindset and perspective to things to help in the growth of the nation at large, the Abhinav Bindra Foundation hosted their inaugural webinar session.
The selected topic to get the ball rolling for this series was - "A discussion on Olympic movement in the post-COVID era and its implications for civil society" and fetched a reputed line-up of insightful panellists. Moderated by senior sports journalist Rajaraman, the session saw the keynote address being delivered by Denmark's Jörg Krieger, a sports historian who teaches at the Aarhus University.
Following the address, an in-depth panel discussion was conducted with Abhinav Bindra, Dr. Cora Burnett, a specialist in Human Movement Studies and Social Anthropology at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa and Alexandra de Navacelle Zolidis who is the President of the Pierre de Coubertin Family Association and a member of the Olympic Culture and Heritage Committee.
The necessity to dissolve the 'formality' from sports and promote physical activity
Having witnessed the sports ecosystem gradually change over the years, Jörg Krieger has been able to identify the key strains where we can develop and grow as a sporting nation. Keeping the post-COVID world in context, Krieger has observed how globally there has been a sharp drop in the physical activity among people given that they are now mostly restricted within the four walls of their house and social distancing measures do not allow for most sporting activities.
Additionally, people cannot go to gyms and clubs anymore as well as before and that also takes a toll on their physical health. Instead, what has started to come up as a response to it is the slow but steady growth in community sports which are largely informal and do not have interventions from any club or organization.
The mass scale cancellation and deferring of tournaments made elite athletes like, famously Naomi Osaka during the French Open and Simone Biles during the Tokyo Olympics battle with mental health issues while most other athletes faced a crisis of their athletic identity, being stuck in a world with sports functioning in a new way.
In order to promote the Olympic spirit and ensure that its values spread deep, even in this post-pandemic world, Krieger ponders upon a paradigm shift taking place from formal to informal sports participation. By informal sports, Krieger's stress is on how you pick up any physical activity and engage with your friends and keep yourself active - no need for formal rules and obligations, sport can be played in any way one prefers because ultimately, it boils down to keeping the body active and imbing the values of Olympism.
"The main goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."
According to Krieger, the way forward is for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to tend their attention to the promotion of community sports and use it as a driving force for change in the world.
"The global pandemic is the great unequalizer. " - Fareed Zakaria
It is only with the help of the IOC can disparities in equality be addressed that are spreading evermore now because of the pandemic. In any case, the motive of the IOC remains as this - "We have an interest and responsibility to get the couch potatoes off the couch….We want to inspire these children by giving them access to sport. " To do this in the post-COVID world, it is necessary to change the focus, as Krieger advised in his keynote speech.
Can leaders be born from simply following Olympic values?
In the next segment of the webinar, Abhinav Bindra, along with Dr. Cora Burnett and Alexandra de Navacelle Zolidis and with Rajaraman as the moderator trespassed into multiple avenues of the Olympic movement - introspecting the history, the present and the future. First off, Bindra, confessed how a major transformation has taken place in his mindset ever since he left competitive sport - from being a narrow-minded athlete preoccupied with medal wins, Bindra, after having imbibed the Olympic spirit has been able to instead focus and see the larger power of sport.
According to the gold medallist from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bindra's pride does not lie so much in the number of medals hanging on his wall as much as it lies in treasuring the bonds and associations he forged as a result of being an Olympian. Bindra, who feels that the Olympics does not come once in 4 years but rather, everyday for athletes, who spend every waking moment nurturing the podium dream, feels that the Olympic spirit helps build character and makes you more self-aware.
The veteran shooter insightfully pointed out how deep the roots of sports run and just how interlinked it is with even the economy of a nation. Bindra hardly believes it to be a coincidence that the most powerful economic nations in the world also happen to be among the top countries in the sports world producing rave athletes - highlighting how the Olympic spirit and values, in its infectious goodness, helps keep them in good stead.
The trio of panellists came to an unanimous conclusion about how this very spirit can act as a promoting factor for building future leaders as the Olympic values are precious and important. Being the fourth generation member of the de Coubertin family, Alexandra points out that Olympism in the present day urges us to look at the whole world as one whole race, and that can be achieved only when sports can be experienced by people.
Bindra, having observed his young niece and nephew, has come to understand the core mentality of most people to be driven by the end-result and not focus on the hard work and the journey instead. Bindra wishes to change this perspective and rather have people focusing on the process than the success at the end.
"The Olympic Movement cannot avoid missing out on getting opportunities to enter the education system and impart values...Give options and opportunity to young people to have access to this knowledge. If we can create an interesting and innovative way - an online workshop or something, it will be better... We can reach direct consumers if we can get into the education system," Abhinav Bindra recommends.
Fetching a few memorable anecdotes, Abhinav recalls the time when he was participating in an important event and suddenly he ran into trouble with his rifle which wasn't functioning, leaving him no option but to borrow. Stressing on this very spirit of camaraderie, Abhinav remembers loaning a rifle and a fellow competitor readily giving it to him.
On one more occasion, Bindra had lost count of the number of bullets he'd require and into a shoot-off, he ran out of them and had to ask for bullets from a neighbouring competitor - who yet again, showed healthy Olympic spirit and gave it. Bindra recalls these memories fondly and notes how the Olympics have taught him a lesson or two on having self-respect and also valuing friendship and having respect, no matter the conflicts, a conversation could resolve anything.
The need for Olympics to remain relevant - from sustainability to gender equality to E-Sports
Alexandra, who believes that two of the most key Olympic values that can be implemented in daily life is definitely one that is of treating the Olympics as an invitation to know oneself and use its knowledge to build character and express through sport while the other chief aspect is in striving for excellence in whatever it is that you do. The Olympics may have aged but these values, as reminded once again by Alexandra continue to remain relevant till this day.
Yet, not everything has been the same, the Olympics has also grown and progressed with the times. From being an event which did not allow women to participate in the Games to seeing the Tokyo Olympics fetch an almost equal turnout of men and women athletes, the journey has been long and eventful and ever-shifting. If the Tokyo Olympics became the first gender-balanced Games in history, by 2024 Paris Olympics gender equality will no longer be an utopian dream, thanks to rampant changes that have been ushered in by the IOC.
Keeping a sustainable future in mind as well, Alexandra revealed how at the 2024 Paris Olympics, the swimming event of the triathlon will take place in the river Seine itself. Currently, the Seine remains very polluted mainly due to rain water and one of the chief projects of the Paris Olympics is to clean the whole of the Seine to facilitate the swimming event. In order to do that, a lot of small social organizations have been included to help out in revamping plans of the drainage system of the historic city - this, Alexandra believes will create a big impact and leave a strong message.
Cora, who is a social anthropologist, agrees with both Alexandra and Bindra in keeping the Olympic Games relevant by including more sports that are popular with the youth. In Tokyo, sports like skateboarding made the cut - referring to the pulse of the youth that the Games wanted to capture. Chiefly being community sports again, including sports like basketball and skateboarding as a part of the Olympics roster only makes the Games more relevant and up-to-date. The inclusion of such 'informal sport' would indeed create a big impact.
The panel also broached on the topic of E-Sports and pondered about its inclusion. Alexandra, revealed her excitement about researching into the prospect of E-sports as a part of the Olympic gambit and how the same Olympic values can be imparted through such radically different sporting forms. Bindra backed up Alexandra on this saying, "E-Sports is here and it has captured the imagination of the youth today. We need to ensure the values on which the Olympic movement is based remain in these new sports. Much more synergies need to be explored between E-Sports and traditional sports."
[The Bridge, which is a dedicated platform for the regular coverage of Olympic sports is the exclusive media partner of the Abhinav Bindra Foundation whose philosophy twins with promoting the Olympic spirit among people and promoting the growth of the nation through sports.]