As part of the Games of the Small State of Europe (GSSE) 2023 in Malta, the EOA and the Maltese Olympic Academy organised an exchange forum for NOC delegates from the Small States. These countries share two substantive elements: close ties to the relevant stakeholders for value education and a strong potential for a culture of values across national sports organisations and the nation as a whole.
From 29 May to 3 June 2023, the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE) were held on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Nine countries, ten sports and over 1000 athletes came together for the 19th edition of this EOC event. From Iceland to Cyprus, Andorra and Montenegro – countries with less than one million inhabitants are defined as small states (Cyprus being an exception, as they had a population of less than one million at the founding of the GSSE) and form a committee that awards the hosting rights every two years.
Not only top performances are in the focus at the GSSE, the week is also underpinned by education about values through sport. Numerous school classes visited the Games and learned about Olympism and the GSSE. On this occasion, the Maltese Olympic Academy had distributed a GSSE-specific Olympic Education Booklet in five versions for different age levels to schools via the Ministry of Education.
“The states may be small, but the Olympic idea is great”
On 31 May, the EOA invited delegates from the NOCs of Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Montenegro, Monaco, San Marino and Iceland to the table to exchange views on common challenges and strategies. This setting was the first of its kind.
In the beginning, President Manfred Laemmer welcomed the NOC guests and pointed out the common mission of NOCs of spreading the values, as stipulated by Rule 27 of the Olympic Charter. Afterwards, Executive Director Soenke Schadwinkel gave a detailed insight into the structures and activities of the EOA.
How relevant the exchange between the National Olympic Academies is for Small States was highlighted by EOA Board Member Clea Papellina, Dean of the Cyprus Olympic Academy. She gave a report on the prestigious organisation of the EOA General Assembly & Conference in Cyprus in 2019. Papellina further lectured on the need to anchor Olympic education in the school curricula and to ensure that PE teachers and coaches received systematic training in Olympic education. A common framework for Small States of Europe is needed, she stated.
Small states worldwide share similarities
As coincidence would have it, Kevin Azzopardi, General Secretary of the Maltese Olympic Academy, had previously distributed an extensive questionnaire to all small states worldwide as part of a research project. With the data gathered Azzopardi found that in small states around the world, there are neither many National Olympic Academies put in place nor many activities carried out. Besides, there is a major gender imbalance and, above all, a serious lack of financial resources.
These unpublished findings were underlined by the subsequent discussion between the NOC delegates that none of the NOCs officially considered themselves an NOA, although they do conduct educational activities of some kind.
“Being small as a country is actually a huge advantage“
The exchange forum showed that the small states of Europe have an extraordinary commonality: The NOCs have the potential to reach literally every individual in the country. In this way, the common culture can be shaped more strongly and the Olympic values spread effectively throughout the population.
For example, Christof Baer from Liechtenstein reported that the NOC holds activities on Olympic Day, that are then attended by every single school child in the country – unimaginable in France or Germany.
The distances to the relevant actors, such as ministries, universities, schools and athletes, are also much shorter, which facilitates the work considerably. This was shown by the Maltese delegates’ explanations regarding the organisation of the GSSE this year. “You have direct access to all high-performance athletes, you know each other personally, so you can build role models very easily,” said David Guehring.
When there is no NOA set up in a country
Furthermore, the group clarified an apparently common misunderstanding: that the existence of a National Olympic Academy is required in order to participate in the EOA network. Actually, in many European countries, no independent NOAs have been formed, but rather the NOC acts in the sense of an Academy and is naturally invited to the meetings as a full member of the EOA.
One example would be the Cyprus Olympic Academy, which is an entity within its National Olympic Committee. Georgios Korellis explained his reasoning that this unique opportunity for exchange with other NOCs ultimately convinced the NOC of Cyprus to join the EOA as a founding member back in 2018.
“More importantly, accession can be a first step in planting a seed within the organisation to learn from the other members and to follow its mission of spreading the Olympic values,” said Executive Director Soenke Schadwinkel.
Experiencing and discussing the Olympic values promotion in Malta
The previous morning, the EOA was able to attend an educational programme for Maltese school children and engage in a periodic debate among PE teachers and academics about the situation of Olympic education in Malta.
The EOA was represented by President Manfred Laemmer, Board member Clea Papaellina and Executive Director Soenke Schadwinkel. The Maltese Olympic Academy has been the newest Member of the EOA since its accession last year. They showed a remarkable commitment to use the synergies of the Games of the Small States for the promotion of Olympic values and to raise awareness of this matter among the participating National Olympic Committees.