Exercise, sport are different

22nd August 2008 at 01:00

On almost all levels, the Olympics are a complex emotional experience; the competitions and emotions are addictive.

Yet the messages going out to young people are confusing. Some of the scandals being uncovered - such as the seven-year-old who wasn't allowed to be part of the opening ceremony as she wasn't "pretty enough" or the clearing from Beijing of touristTV unfriendly sights, as in previous Olympics - are disturbing enough. But what about sponsorship? For schools and pupils who have had vending machines removed and copious education on healthy eating, the two main sponsors being McDonalds and Coca-Cola is difficult to swallow.

This is not to criticise the Chinese: the main driver behind this is the International Olympic Committee. It is their sponsorship deals, and they have been insistent that there is to be nothing in the city which is not from their official sponsors, who have spent over pound;2.7 billion on billboard and outdoor advertising alone. And the same will be true of London in 2012; indeed, it is a requirement of the bid.

But there is a further issue about "sport". Nationalism is central to it and particularly for the host country where, as in this case, the Chinese are desperate to be top of the medals table. What this tends to mean is that physical activity is divorced from play and enjoyment. Exercise, which should be about the enjoyment of our bodies, human company and the environment as well as keeping healthy, is not the same as sport.

It is this vision of exercise which we should be promoting in schools, and pretending we can all be Olympic athletes in 2012 is off-putting for most youngsters. As we enjoy the games, we need to keep this in mind.

Henry Maitles, reader in curricular studies, Strathclyde University.

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