Xenia Kourgouzova showcases how the youth can gain Olympic values through education
Ahead of a webinar by the Abhinav Bindra Foundation targetted at empowering young Indians through Olympic Value Education, Xenia Kourgouzova shares her thoughts.
The Abhinav Bindra Foundation Trust (ABFT), in partnership with the Olympic Studies Center, German Sports University Cologne, is set to host the second episode of its educative webinar series 'Olympism and its values' on 24th September, 2021. Focusing on the aspect of education, the topic of the second webinar in this series has been kept as 'Olympic Values Education - An opportunity to empower Young Indians'.
Featuring an esteemed list of panelists from all around the globe and including India's very first individual gold medallist, Abhinav Bindra, as well, the webinar will be directed at the youth and how Olympic Values Education can help nurture the spirit of Olympism in them.
The Bridge, which is the exclusive media partner of the ABFT, had the privilege of reaching out to Xenia Kourgouzova, who is the Senior Education Manager at the Olympic Foundation and the International Olympic Committee Lead of the Olympic Value Education Programme.
Replete with insights galore, Xenia shares her myriad thoughts with The Bridge, ahead of the second webinar where she will be speaking.
The Bridge (TB): First and foremost, we'd like to ask you, what is your interpretation of the term - Olympism?
Xenia: The goal of the Olympic Movement is to build a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. This goal is supported by a range of initiatives, OVEP being one example.
As described by the International Olympic Committee: Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
TB: What do you say are the driving factors behind creating a strong and prosperous Olympic nation?
Xenia: I am a firm believer in education being the bedrock of progress and prosperity.
TB: How do you think adopting Olympic values into our day-to-day lifestyle can create change - illustrate with an example?
Xenia: It is a known fact that in today's day and age, many young people, particularly children and teens, are not as active as they should be, during a pandemic or otherwise. Studies suggest that as children move through adolescence, they become more sedentary, which is associated with a greater risk of depression by the age of 18. At the same time, it is proved that regular physical activity improves academic performance, develops cognitive skills and aptitudes, enhances concentration and attention.
In a world where obesity and lifestyle ailments are a major concern, physical activity and sport have an increasingly important role to play. Adopting Olympic Values means not only striving for excellence in all fields of life, but also enjoying the healthy combination of body, will and mind. The Olympic values of respect and friendship teach respect for oneself and one's body, for other people, for rules and regulations, for sport and for the environment.
A unique moment of sportsmanship that will go down in Olympic history. 💓— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) April 16, 2020
Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D'Agostino touched hearts around the world at Rio 2016.#TBT #StayStrong @NikkiHamblin @abbey_dags @nzolympics @TeamUSA @WorldAthletics pic.twitter.com/vWtbY7T8Al
At every edition of the Games, we see such examples of mutual respect and friendship. One of my favorite moments was the women's 5000m at Rio 2016 when Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand collided with American Abbey D'Agostino during their heat. D'Agostino was injured and Hamblin stopped and encouraged her to continue. The two finished the race together. It was a magic moment that displayed Olympic Values.
Olympic values transcend political and geographical boundaries. You may remember the women's 10m air pistol final from Beijing 2008. Russia's Natalia Pederina and Georgian Nino Salukvadze who won silver and bronze respectively embraced and congratulated each other even though the two countries were in conflict at the time. There are hundreds of such moving examples.
TB: Nelson Mandela did say that - Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world. As the Education Manager Senior of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage, IOC, how do you plan to personally bring about a change in the coming years? What is your personal objective?
Xenia: My personal objectives are very much in line with my professional ones. The Olympic Values Education Programme aims to realize the Olympic ideal of building a better world through sport. We know that learning is most effective when the learners are engaged, and when they enjoy the learning experience. What this means is that sport can be used as a powerful education tool. And as mentioned earlier, the aim is to use this powerful tool to help build healthier, more responsible and more respectful future generations.
The pandemic added new challenges but it also opened up a world of possibilities. The acceleration of digital learning, innovation, development of new tools and methods. This has also opened up new possibilities for OVEP and we hope to make OVEP more accessible, adaptable and flexible by taking full advantage of the digital tools and newly-developed methodologies.
TB: What are the challenges that you have had to face in this role - where have you noticed a lack, if at all, and what can be done to remedy it and bring everybody on the same page, invested with the Olympic spirit.
Xenia: I do like to focus on opportunities rather than challenges! I believe that making the programme adaptable to a local context is going to be key. Taking advantage of the new OVEP (digital) format will help us explore new audiences and venture into new territories to expand OVEP's reach and impact.
Building and developing educational partnerships globally will help us ensure that OVEP principles are embedded in key international educational initiatives. This is certainly no small task, but we aim to gain more support and visibility through collaborations.
TB: Coming to Tokyo 2020 - both the Olympics as well as the Paralympic Games, could you mention your favourite moments from both?
Xenia: I loved the 'Stronger Together' campaign. It was such a strong and unifying message at such a difficult time – one that was needed in the context of the Games. It created a sense of belonging, not just among the competitors but everyone that was involved with the Games, including the audiences. It was truly a message of solidarity to unite people, communities and societies across the globe.
The true essence of sportsmanship.— Gavan Reilly (@gavreilly) August 1, 2021
🇮🇹 Gianmarco Tamberi and 🇶🇦 Mutaz Barshim are approached about a high-jump tiebreaker jump-off… and agree to share the Olympic title.#Athletics #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/HyyJU0MtT3
We saw this manifested in the high jump competition when Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim had the choice of a jump-off for one gold, or shared medals, and they chose to share. All three key Olympic values were illustrated here, with respect and friendship being held above ambitions. And of course, the gold medal stands for excellence!
TB: Finally, how in India do you think the value of Olympism can be imbibed through education?
Xenia: With more than 50% of its population below the age of 25, India is a great territory for implementing OVEP as OVEP's target age group is 6-25. At the same time, India's education system is quite diverse, making it difficult for a one-size-fits-all solution to work in different settings.
This is where OVEP's flexibility and adaptability are important. OVEP can be adapted to the different needs and requirements of schools and teachers. OVEP's activities do not require complex arrangements, new facilities, or high budgets. The only requirement is motivation, nothing more is necessary to implement OVEP's activities in schools or even at home.
And anyone can do it: any teacher (not only PE), coach, extracurricular guide, parent. OVEP toolkit is a great place to start, but more resources are coming soon – OVEP digital for example.
Moreover, the joy of effort, fair play, respect, pursuit of excellence, physical and mental balance – can all be taught through a range of school subjects: the Olympic themes can be explained through examples in history, mathematics, science, language, physical education, health and life studies. With the strong emphasis on academics in India, I think this aspect is really important.
In both rural and urban settings, sports sessions can be combined with the teaching of health and life skills as well as peer education workshops, fundraising activities, leadership clinics. Young people can be trained to become youth leaders for their peers. Holding Olympic-themed events like Olympic week, month, Road to Beijing, Paris, etc. can work very effectively to ignite imaginations and interests.
[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. To register for the webinar, click here.]