This summer London will be transformed into a city of sport, culture and celebration as it hosts the XXX Olympic Games. For more than 14,000 competing athletes, the London 2012 Olympics will be the peak of their sporting career. For the UK as host country, the organisers of the Games, volunteers, spectators and fans all around the world, the Olympics are much more than just a sporting event.
The London 2012 Olympics will bring millions of people of different nationalities and cultures to the capital to celebrate, volunteer or work at the event. For the Olympics to be a true global success, anyone involved in making them happen should understand not only the key principles of working effectively across culturesbut the historical roots and values of this world heritage sporting event.
Get Ready, Set, Go! The Origins of the Olympic Games
The Olympic Movement is named after Olympia, the city of its origin where the Games symbolised one of the many ways that Greeks worshipped their Gods. It originally involved a series of competitions held between representatives of city-states and kingdoms of ancient Greece. Although the exact date of the first Olympics is not known, the first record dates from 776 BC when Heracles together with his father Zeus stood as progenitors of the Games. According to legend it was Heracles who first called the Games ‘Olympic’ and established the custom of holding them every four years.
Running was the only event in the first 13 recorded Olympic Games. Events such as wrestling, boxing, horse riding and chariot racing were added later, but the main event of the ancient games was the pentathlon, a composition of running, jumping, javelin, discus and wrestling. The ancient Games reached their zenith in the sixth and fifth centuries BC before disappearing when the Romans grew more influential.
The Olympian Games were slowly brought back to existence in the 18th century when French Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived them as an international spectacle after founding the International Committee (IOC) in 1894. Two years later the first modern Olympic Games were hosted in the Panathenaic stadium in Athens bringing together 241 athletes from 14 nations who competed in 43 events.
Four years later, the Summer Olympics in Paris attracted more than four times as many athletes, including the first 20 women to ever participate. Apart from the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Olympics that were cancelled due to World War I and World War II, the popularity and size of the Olympic Games has steadily grown and now brings together more than 10,000 competitors from over 200 countries and millions of visitors from all over the world.
The Rings, Motto and the Flame: Key Values and Symbols of the Olympics
Pierre de Coubertin believed that sport could help to bring people together and celebrate cultural differences around the world. He felt the Olympics were an opportunity to apply important values to the sporting world as well as to education and society as a whole. The core values of respect, excellence and friendship are still core to the Olympics as we know them. The Olympics of our time also include determination, courage, inspiration and equality, all values added for the Paralympics. These were officially introduced at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where 400 wheelchair athletes competed in the ‘Parallel Olympics’ for the first time. The idea was originally born in 1948 when neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttman began to use sport as part of the rehabilitation programmes of his patients who were mainly war veterans with spinal injuries.
The three core values of respect, excellence and friendship are conveyed through the Olympic symbols – the rings, the motto and the flame:
- The motto ‘citius – altius – fortius’ (Latin for faster – higher – stronger) embodies the value of excellence by encouraging athletes to strive to do their best.
- The most recognised symbol of the Olympics is the set of five coloured rings which embody the five continents. The rings represent respect and aim to bring together all nations without discrimination.
- The flame symbolises friendship and peace between peoples. The flame is lit during a traditional ceremony in Greece at the Temple of Hera in ancient Olympia. From there the Olympic torch starts its journey through Greece and the host country until it arrives in the Olympic Stadium where it remains lit until the last day of the Olympics.
Going for Gold at the London 2012 Olympics: Making it Happen
As the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games approach, the eyes of the world are turning to the UK. After several years of careful planning, London will soon be put to the test and show whether it can live up to the world’s expectations.
According to the London Olympics official website up to 70,000 volunteers will take on a wide variety of roles across the venues, from welcoming visitors to transporting athletes, helping out behind the scenes in the technology team and much more. The volunteers, called ‘Games Makers’ as they are helping to make the Games happen, will come from a diverse range of communities and backgrounds from the UK and abroad.
In addition to these volunteers, there will be thousands of people employed to manage the security and maintenance at all of the Olympic sites. There are also countless Olympic officials, coaches, advisors and other organisers that must work together to make the games happen. From catering and hospitality, to cleaning, IT, ticketing and security, almost all conceivable jobs will be filled by more than 100,000 people, including students and those currently out of work.
Volunteers, employees, athletes and spectators at the London 2012 Olympic Games will need to find a way to work through any cultural or linguistic barriers they encounter in order to make this event a true success. Cross cultural training programmes like Working Effectively across Cultures can help anyone involved in making the Olympics happen to understand how they may need to adapt their approach to avoid misunderstandings and tension. After all, the Olympics are not just a sporting event but an opportunity to celebrate cultural difference in a peaceful, respectful and fun way.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012