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21 Jun 2011
Olympic News

Seize The Day

For Olympic Review, Adam Szreter charts the evolution of Olympic Day – the annual worldwide event of the Olympic Movement – into a major sporting, cultural and educational occasion

While many youngsters grow up dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games, only a few will actually be able to go on to compete on the world’s biggest sporting stage. However, Olympic Day offers a chance for everybody to experience the magic of the Olympic values for themselves in their schools and local communities around the world. People can take part in a range of exciting activities varying from runs, competitions in schools and the chance to try out new games and sports, to art contests and the opportunity to meet former Olympians and learn about their experiences at the Games.

Olympic Day, which takes place on or around 23 June each year, allows people of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of sporting ability, to experience the values of Olympism and of the Olympic Movement, at least for one day. The Olympic Day Run is the event most widely associated with Olympic Day – though nowadays it is much more than a sports event, with a variety of new and exciting elements forming part of the celebrations. Cultural and educational activities are being added with increasing frequency to the sporting agenda, while some countries have even incorporated  Olympic Day into the school curriculum. Concerts and exhibitions are also now part of proceedings, and it often provides an opportunity for children to meet their sporting heroes.

“Olympic Day is a special day to come together, move together and learn about the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect,” says IOC President Jacques Rogge. “The majority of the National Olympic Committees (NOC) on the five continents take advantage of this occasion to share the Olympic spirit with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Olympic Day is really aimed at everyone, whatever their sporting ability.”

Olympic Day was first celebrated in 1948 following approval by the 42nd IOC Session in St Moritz, Switzerland. A total of nine NOCs hosted ceremonies marking the occasion: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela. Thirty years later, in the 1978 edition of the Olympic Charter, it was recommended for the first time that all NOCs organise an Olympic Day to promote the Olympic Movement.

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Then, on 23 June 1987, the concept of an Olympic Day Run was launched by the IOC Sport for All Commission. It was to be a way of encouraging NOCs to celebrate Olympic Day. The first run was held over a distance of 10km, with 45 participating NOCs. Over the next 20 years Olympic Day was associated with Olympic Day Runs all over the world and the number of participating NOCs swelled to nearly 200 – with many of them in Africa – proving the event’s universal appeal. In 2009, after more than 20 years of global success, the Olympic Day Run adapted to the requests of the NOCs by becoming the Olympic Day once again. Numerous NOCs continue to organise the traditional Olympic Day Run but have diversified their activities around the three new pillars of "Move”, “Learn” and “Discover”.

“It’s much more than just playing sport, running or exercising,” says President Rogge. “It is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the Olympic Games: i.e. that we must always try to give the best of ourselves, while the important thing is not winning or losing but knowing how to play the game well – a philosophy that can serve in everyday life.”

Pere Miró, IOC NOC relations director, explains the thinking behind broadening the appeal of Olympic Day: “Over the years, Olympic Day has evolved to become an event during which everyone comes together and learns about the Olympic Games. We noticed that the NOCs had taken the initiative of organising cultural and educational activities alongside the Olympic Day Run,” he says.

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“This led to the proposal that NOCs organise activities during their own Olympic Day around the three main themes, which are ‘move, learn and discover’.”

The first pillar, “Move”, very much supports the Olympic Day Run, which remains the core activity of Olympic Day. It is a manageable and cost-effective way of holding a mass participation event at grassroots level nationwide. But “Move” also encourages the general public to be more physically active on Olympic Day, whether that be walking rather than taking the car, or using the stairs instead of the lift.

With “Learn”, Olympic Day offers a special framework for educational activities that will interest teachers and children alike. Besides learning about the role of sport in society and the Olympic values, Olympic Day is a great opportunity to reflect on the contribution of sport to global social issues such as education, health promotion, HIV prevention, women and girls’ empowerment, sustainable development, environmental protection, peace building and local community development.

“Discover” relates to a panoply of Olympic-related activity including trying out new (or old!) sports; meeting and talking to high-level athletes and Olympic champions, hearing their stories and asking them questions; getting tips about other sports-related activities such as journalism, photography or coaching; and finding out about the culture of countries hosting future Olympic Games.

“Everyone can take part in Olympic Day, young and old alike, occasional or regular sports people, and even volunteers. Simply get in touch with the NOC of your country or go to for additional information on the activities being organised in each country,” says Miró. And just as the IOC has adapted the concept of Olympic Day over time, it has also adopted new communications methods by actively using social media networks, which provide a unique opportunity to reach the fans of the Olympic Movement, especially young people.

NOCs on every continent have been preparing for this year’s Olympic Day. In the United States, from June 17-26, communities across the nation will celebrate Olympic Day through educational programming and other activities. To accomplish this, the US Olympic Committee will work with the nearly 10,000 Olympians and Paralympians currently living in the United States, with the intention of having an athlete present at each Olympic Day celebration to share their experiences and the role that Olympic ideals have played in their lives.

The Australian NOC is encouraging schools to organise competitions and arranging for Olympians to visit those that do and spread the Olympic values, while the NOC in Nepal is expecting up to 5,000 enthusiastic participants at its Peace Walk and Olympic Day Rally including students, teachers, athletes, sports instructors and representatives of various local institutions as well as the broader community of Olympic fans.

“More than ever, I encourage the NOCs to continue to promote and implement the theme of the campaign – ‘Move, Learn and Discover’ – which was successfully launched in 2009,” said President Rogge. “Olympic Day is the ideal platform to highlight the benefits of physical activity in general, particularly for young people. It allows them to learn about the Olympic values as well as to discover new sports. In this respect, Olympic Day is also a good opportunity to spread the word about the Youth Olympic Games.”

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