Dear friends and participants of this 10th Joint Session of National Olympic Academies and National Olympic Committees, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Ancient Olympia and the International Olympic Academy, at an extremely difficult period for Greece and the international community.
We are all aware of the important role played by National Olympic Committees and National Olympic Academies. In particular, the National Olympic Academies should play a very important role in their respective countries, not only for the education of the youth, but also for the education of sports officials. Our annual meeting, here at the Academy, aims at strengthening an international network of exchange of information and views on the pedagogical orientation we should all follow in order to tackle the problems that the international sports movement faces today. We all know what these problems are, especially those that are predominant: the political and economic exploitation of the sports product, doping, the distortion of the meaning of competition, as well as the inadequate education of young people in the values of Olympism.
If we add to these problems, the world economic crisis and, more generally, the crisis of humanistic values, we have one additional reason to review and redefine the roles that we all have, through the administration of sports and what we offer to society but, above all, through education, since it is education that lays the foundations that will allow us to bring about major changes in our daily life. We have to admit, though, that the seeds of education take a lot of time before they bear fruit. This is why, quite often, societies prefer to choose the easier solution. They prefer to opt for more direct means of propagating behavior models and rules among youth and, in general, among athletes and young people.
But this is the mistake for which we all have to pay, in all areas. The world Olympic and sports family has the duty to persist and to further and support Olympic education. Education takes time before it bears fruit. However, the changes that will take place, eventually, in societies underpinned by a sound education system will be so important that they will lead to the creation of a healthy structure governed by stable rules and humanistic values.
The International Olympic Committee, through its Charter, entrusts to National Olympic Committees the mission of propagating the principles of Olympism in each country. This is a very distinct and extremely important mission.
Each National Olympic Committee, in order to comply with its obligations, cooperates directly or, to be more realistic, I should say, must cooperate with the National Olympic Academy of each country that forms, or to be more realistic once again, I should say, must form an integral part of the NOC’s structure. Even when a National Academy operates outside the IOC’s legal and organizational framework, close cooperation and mutual recognition of the two institutions are a prerequisite for the attainment of their common goal which is the propagation of Olympism in the whole world.
From this rostrum, we have often heard that National Olympic Academies should be independent and self-governing because of the very important cultural value of their mission.
Allow me here to take a stand since my role of President of the International Olympic Academy, the umbrella institution for the individual activities of the NOAs, is extremely sensitive and delicate. The two words we often hear in this hall, “independence” and “autonomy,” might lead to erroneous interpretations.
It is obvious that National Olympic Academies must diligently preserve their independence in order to contribute, in the most efficient way, to the free movement of ideas and opinions and thus facilitate the propagation of the Olympic principles, a task that a technocratic organization like the NOC cannot easily perform nowadays.
Such independence, however, should not be confused with the concept of autonomy in the case of a National Olympic Academy, a concept that can easily be misconstrued, thus leading to the total separation of the Olympic Academy from the NOC. And, in order to be more realistic, for a third time, I would say that this would not be compatible with the objectives and principles of the Olympic Movement.
Admittedly, without the independent forum provided by each National Olympic Academy, the ideas of Olympism would shrink and often lose their meaning, sacrificed on the altar of opportunism. It is, however, also certain that without the NOC’s and the IOC’s organizational and financial support to the National Academy, the role of this educational institution would be reduced and run the risk of losing its real purpose.
For all the above reasons, we should all seek to create an appropriate climate that will enable all National Olympic Academies to find a “modus vivendi” where it does not already exist, a way of coexisting with the NOCs, that will make them stronger and help them protect their independent voices, as well as survive in the vast structure of the Olympic Movement.
Dear friends, the Olympic ideals represent today, more than ever before probably, a pedagogical orientation for world youth that shapes the thinking, the intellectual process, and behavior of the young people on this planet. To achieve this objective, the International Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Academy, National Olympic Academies and National Olympic Committees must coordinate their actions and work together with the view to promoting and preserving these pedagogical values.
These ideas, however, are not enough on their own. As the author Nikos Kazantzakis once said, “There are no ideas – there are only men who carry ideas – and these ideas rise to the level of the man who carries them.”
I want to close this opening address with this phrase and encourage you to reflect once again on what we want our lives to be and our roles and duties towards young people and young athletes. If we can really do something for them, let us do it with generosity since, anyway, our lives too are God’s gift to all of us.