On 11 November 1992 the National Olympic Committee (NOC) officially launched the National Olympic Academy (NOA), its educational arm. The idea was to join several other NOCs around the world in deliberately and systematically educating Vincentians about the International Olympic Movement and to stimulate interest enough to have persons coming forward to be part of the institution engaged in this noble undertaking.
The Vincentian NOA was the first such organisation to be established in the English-speaking Caribbean, a major achievement for the NOC, especially since several of its counterparts in the Caribbean had been in existence for decades before its own establishment.
The International Olympic Movement promotes Olympism. It is thought that Olympism involves a set of noble values critical to the creation of a more peaceful and unified world – equality, fairness, justice, respect for person, rationality and understanding, autonomy and excellence – with each NOC impacting first the society in which it is located. There are many in the Movement who insist that Olympism is much more than a collection of values. They suggest that it is a way of life. They believe that these values are inherent to sport.
The interest of many in sport has to do with the inculcation of the aforementioned positive values. However, in recent times, the spread of professionalism in sport has led to significant challenges to the lofty ideals incorporated in Olympism. The recently concluded Football World Cup stands as ample evidence of the extent to which fair play, while held aloft by FIFA, is most conspicuous by its absence. The focus is to win at all cost, including physical damage to one’s opponent on the field of play.
It is argued that the most important starting point in anything is with the children and so the NOA established an innovative programme called, Junior Olympians. This programme was officially launched on 18 November 1995, three years after the establishment of the NOA.
The idea of establishing the Junior Olympians came from Mavis Findlay, then a teacher at the Lodge Village Government School. The concept was readily welcomed by the NOA which immediately set about inviting parents to encourage their children to become part of what promised to be a local organisation with immense potential to impact the future of St Vincent and the Grenadine sand beyond.
The Junior Olympians sought to institutionalise itself. The mission statement of the NOA was determined and read, to inculcate an understanding of and appreciation for Olympism in children aged 8-15 years within the context of forging a national sports culture. It was argued that the country needed a sports culture and that the children could play an important role in achieving this long term goal.
The Junior Olympians then created their own oath that read, we promise to uphold the lofty values of the Olympic Movement, striving to be the best that we can be in accordance with the Olympic Spirit. Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger.
The oath suggests a commitment to striving, not after victory at all cost, but rather, to being the best that one can be at any point in one’s life. The aim is high but it is important that the focus on getting there is maintained and given priority. This oath was part of every session held by the Junior Olympians. Every Junior Olympian was expected to understand the meaning of the oath and learn to say it with confidence and conviction.
Interestingly, the Junior Olympians chose as the organisation’s theme song, Michael Jackson’s Heal the World. The choice may well have been intended to maintain a level of consistency with the overall ideals of the Olympic Movement – the creation of a better world than that which exists around us.
The children were brought together on Saturdays and introduced to Olympic education. They were informed about the origins of the International Olympic Movement, its structure and history. They learnt about the ancient Olympics and how the modern Olympics came into being. The transformation of the modern Olympics was explained and the children were encouraged to engage in their own exploration of this process.
The Junior Olympians were given an appreciation for the nuances in the Movement. They were told about the exclusion of women in the Games and the rational for their later inclusion to the point where the IOC dictated that by the end of the 20th century each NOC must have achieved a 20% female membership of their respective executive committees.
In order not to allow the students to become bored they were offered sessions in art and craft, taken on field trips, hikes, picnics and engaged in indoor and outdoor sports.
At the beginning every effort was made to hold an annual Junior Olympians residential camp spread Friday through Sunday. During this event they were encouraged to organise their own Olympic Games consistent with what they had been taught during the year. Amazingly the children were quite innovative and their Games were very inclusive.
The success of the Junior Olympians’ initiative was such that several teachers and parents became interested and branches were soon established in different areas. Additionally, the NOA hosted a Regional Junior Olympians Camp at the Macedonia Rock.
As with so many other initiatives in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the challenges posed by the movement of personnel and the absence of secondary and tertiary leadership saw a decline in the Junior Olympians.
Another challenge has been the role of those who have attained the age of 15 and still wanted to be part of the Olympic Movement. The NOA flirted with the idea of creating what it referred to as Olympic Links. The idea here was to prepare them to become full-fledged members of the NOA and spread the work of this institution to areas as yet untouched in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Now the major challenge is to establish the organisation on a more solid foundation and to impact all of St Vincent and the Grenadines. To this end the Education and Culture, Sport and the Environment, Women and Sport and Sport for All Commissions of the NOA have commenced work.
The aforementioned Commissions are engaged in activities that are part of their respective commitment to the spread of the Olympic ideals in St Vincent and the Grenadines. They are all in one way or another reaching out to the children and youths of this country. In this regard therefore it should be relatively easy to collaborate, share resources and commit to the revitalisation of the Junior Olympians.
The Sport and the Environment Commission has already reached out to several schools at the primary and secondary levels in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Coordinator of the Commission, Nigel Weekes, has very strong views on the importance of the students being exposed to the fundamentals of the Olympic Movement if they are to more readily appreciate the role that sport can and must play in the sustainability of a healthy environment for the benefit of all in Vincentian society.
The Women and Sport Commission, headed by Patricia Fraser, has been addressing the critical issues attendant to the fall-off in participation of girls in sporting activities, especially beyond 13 – 15 years.
The Sport for All Commission is just as it says, an organisation that aims to assure people of all ages, classes and religious and political persuasions that they all have the right to participate in sport for the immense lifelong benefits inherent in it.
The Culture and Education Commission focuses on pedagogical strategies that inform the entire nation of what the Olympic Movement is about and the many ways in which the values inherent in Olympism can find expression in their daily activities.
A series of measures have already been undertaken relative to bolstering the Junior Olympians while others are at the discussion stage.
The NOC has a website that has information on the NOA and the Junior Olympians. This is an important resource that will be further developed.
The NOA has started its own presence on Face Book. This is part of the eagerness of the NOA to utilise new media, which already holds the attention of the children and youths across the globe. The continued updating of the Face Book component would serve to allow for ongoing interaction that has not been occurring on the website.
New registration forms have been developed to encourage interested persons to become part of the Junior Olympians.
Work is currently being undertaken on the production of attractive brochures that provide interesting information on the Olympic Movement. The first in this series has been the document prepared for the NOC’s observance of Olympic Week 2010, thousands of which were produced and circulated amongst the nation’s school children. This will become a permanent feature of the NOA in the future and would serve as a critical tool in sustaining interest in the Junior Olympians.
The NOA has scheduled three sport art workshops for the vacation period. One will be for children aged 8 – 12 years and will be held 6 – 7 August. A second will cater for children aged 13 – 16 years and will be held during the period 13 – 14 August. The third workshop will take place 20 – 21 August and will be for teachers and other interested adults willing to teach sport art to children as well as other adults.
The NOA has scheduled a Sport for All activity for October, around the Independence celebrations. It is hoped that the Junior Olympians will by that time be able to showcase some of their achievements and encourage other children to come on board. The proposed venue for the Sport for All activity is the Arnos Vale Sports Complex and it is expected that every affiliate of the NOC will participate in full, displaying some aspect of their sport for a brief period of time.
A Movement of its own
The general idea that is emerging within the NOA is to establish the Junior Olympians as a Movement of its own, starting here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It could become our own contribution to the betterment of this country and could serve as a model for the rest of the NOCs across the Caribbean and beyond.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is possessive of an abundance of talent in sport. It is important that we show the world that we are also capable of producing successive generations of sportsmen and sportswomen that are imbued with the true spirit of Olympism and make their contribution to a better world.