Placing the athlete at the centre of Olympic education: Take-aways from the International Session for NOAs in Olympia

The 17th International Session for NOAs and NOCs Delegates of the International Olympic Academy took place in Ancient Olympia, Greece, from 13-20 May 2024. The theme was “The athlete in society” and brought the NOAs a lively exchange on the role of the athlete in the Olympic Movement and as facilitators for Olympic Education. The EOA was represented by its Director Soenke Schadwinkel and Board member Clea Papaellina.

Mid-May is a blocked time for National Olympic Academies, as the IOA invites its delegates to a session, which has already taken place for the 17th time in 2024. Almost one hundred participants from all over the world, including 22 EOA members, came together to discuss Olympic Education, the work of the NOAs and the main topic of “The athlete in society”.

The session was opened by IOA President Isidoros Kouvelos and the new IOA Director Makis Asimakopoulos. The lectures of the following days highlighted the large-scale activities of Olympic education in India, Ireland and China, sociological and legal considerations of the role of the athlete in the Olympic Movement as well as the work of the IOC with its new Athletes Department, the Olympic Solidarity and the OVEP initiative.

In addition, the delegates elaborated in working groups on the ways in which Olympic athletes contribute to and promote Olympism with regard to the work of the NOAs. It became clear that athletes, as role models, have a major impact on society and should therefore be included in the work of the NOAs. At the same time, the athlete must be offered a healthy environment in order to meet the expectations of its sport and the society. There are already a number of NOAs that have firmly integrated athletes into their activities, a good example being the NOA of Israel, where the Athletes Department works closely with the NOA.

On the last day of the conference, the IOA, under its new director, Dr Makis Asimakopoulos, hosted a roundtable to discuss the IOA’s ambitions and its future role. This is in line with some reform plans to bind the NOAs more closely to their NOCs and to increase the scope of IOA activities. The NOAs welcomed the ideas and noted that there are often strategic, personnel and, above all, financial hurdles in the NOAs and that the IOA is called upon to provide the necessary assistance.

The activity presentations by the National Olympic Academies showed the high quality of projects and structures that prevail in the NOAs from Europe, also in international comparison. Delegates from other continents are turning their attention to the special European cooperation in the form of the EOA, which may also serve as a role model for other continents.

Soenke Schadwinkel said, “For the many first-timers, including me, the session was a wonderful opportunity to once again experience the Olympic spirit, which was provided by the special frame of the Session. What was also particularly interesting was the exchange with colleagues beyond Europe for an international comparison of where our European NOAs stand.”

EOA Director Soenke Schadwinkel and Board Member Clea Papaellina engaged at the roundtable of the IOA Session in Olympia.

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