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  • An Olympic Education -- High Hopes for Academy


    For more than 50 years, the International Olympic Academy in Olympia has served an integral role within the Olympic Movement. Its president hopes it will continue to teach the ideals of  the Olympic forefathers long into the future.

    An overhead shot of the International Olympic Academy (ATR)
    “Nowadays, the aim of the IOA is to establish in the near future, in this ideal place of Ancient Olympia, a true center for research and contemporary brainstorming of Olympism, which will help the course of the Olympic Movement more radically and effectively, filling the requirements and the vision of Pierre de Coubertin and the founders of the IOA,” Isidoros Kouvelos said to Around the Rings.

    Founded in 1961, the IOA celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 14, 2011. Kouvelos, a former president of the Hellenic Equestrian Federation, has presided over the academy since 2009. He is the tenth president in the IOA’s history.

    “The Academy was founded precisely for the purpose of safeguarding the value system of Olympism,” Kouvelos said.

    “It welcomes people from all over the world to whom it teaches the principles of Olympism through detailed lectures and harmonious cohabitation, contributing in a tangible way to experiencing Olympism as a way of life and promoting peaceful coexistence of men and people all over the world,” he said.

    Sprawled across 225 acres of lush green and hilly countryside adorned by Greek olive and pine trees, the IOA campus is perched just above the sacred site of ancient Olympia, about 260 kilometers from Athens.

    Throughout its more than half century of existence, nearly 80,000 young people, scholars, and sports officials have visited and studied at the IOA, enabling the institution to fulfill its purpose as a multi-cultural interdisciplinary center exploring, enriching, and promoting Olympism globally.

    Currently, on its premises are a modern auditorium with a capacity for 450 attendants with simultaneous interpretation in five languages, new lecture halls, a library with more than 16,000 titles, wireless internet access, accommodations with over 200 beds, and sports facilities including a swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts, a running track, and football pitch.

    A view of the IOA grounds (ATR)
    Kouvelos stressed the importance of the IOA’s continued focus on educating, enlightening, and assuring that the principles of Olympism remain relevant to today’s youth.

    “The main objective of the IOA is to disseminate the Olympic values to the young generations,” Kouvelos said.

    “Coubertin believed the Olympic Games would operate as a vehicle through which the principles of Olympism could be integrated in the broad, general education of young people.

    “This is the role of the IOA and we will continue to work to that end.”

    Bach Visits IOA

    IOC president Thomas Bach visited Olympia for the Sochi 2014 flame lighting ceremony in late September, his first significant international trip at the helm of the organization.

    “It was a very special day for me because I came here for the first time as an athlete representative to this academy, asking for more power for athletes in the decision making of the IOC,” Bach said after the ceremony, while on the grounds of the International Olympic Academy.

    Bach (left) and Kouvelous (ATR)
    “Now coming back as the president of the IOC, of course, is very special, because a circle is somehow closing,” he said.

    Kouvelos discussed the significance of the president’s recent visit and his staunch commitment to the IOA.

    “We all knew from the past that Thomas Bach is one of the strongest supporters of the role of the International Olympic Academy in the Olympic Movement,” Kouvelos said. “He has repeatedly mentioned his belief that the IOA is implementing its role in the best way, disseminating the Olympic values through many activities, while educating young people from all over the world.”

    While in Olympia, Bach also visited with students from the IOA’s masters program in Olympic studies.

    “This initiative gave these youngsters great pleasure, since all of them are servants of the Olympic Movement,” Kouvelos said about Bach’s meeting with the IOA students.

    “The message they received from him was really superb.”

    Fulfilling Coubertin’s Wishes

    Coubertin believed that the Olympic Movement should not deviate from its educational objectives and that Olympism has both a philosophical and educational dimension, ideals that the IOA has maintained.

    The father of the modern Olympic Games stated, “I have not been able to carry out to the end what I wanted to achieve. I believe that a center of Olympic studies would contribute, more than anything else, to the preservation and continuation of my work and would protect it from deviations, which I am afraid will happen.”

    A statue of Coubertin stands in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. (Getty Images)
    Although the IOA, a non-profit institution, has made unparalleled contributions to the Olympic Movement upholding Coubertin’s values and principles for more than a half century, it has recently faced financial burdens.

    Since 2012, through the support of Jacques Rogge and the IOC Commission for Culture and Olympic Education, financial contributions from the IOC have been increased and now cover nearly half of the IOA’s expenses each year. The funding will continue through at least 2016.

    “The current difficult economic situation in Greece has left a huge gap in the financial autonomy of the IOA, since the Greek government was one of the major contributors to the works of the academy,” Kouvelos explained. “Subsequently the IOC, and personally former IOC president Rogge, decided to support the IOA substantially for the next four years.”

    The IOC also recognizes the IOA in its charter and includes, among its obligations, the protection and enhancement of its activities.

    Kouvelos emphasizes that support from parties within the Olympic family, in addition to assistance from the private sector, are critical to insure that the IOA continues moving in the right direction.

    “In order to fulfill our task, we need the trust and support of all the other Olympic family players, such as the IFs, the NOCs, and the sponsors,” Kouvelos said.

    “Sponsors and donors are warmly welcomed to add their presence to our works.

    “The propagation of the Olympic Values through the works of the IOA is an absolute must, not only for the present, but for the future of international sports.”

    In part two of this story, we speak with students at the IOA. It will be published on Thursday.

    Written by Brian Pinelli

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