Northeastern’s Sport in Society center recently launched an Olympism and Social Jus­tice Insti­tute, which has been rec­og­nized by the Inter­na­tional Olympic Com­mittee (IOC). As the Winter Olympics in Van­couver wind down, Eli Wolff, coor­di­nator of the new insti­tute, dis­cusses the new role for Sport in Society.

Sport in Society’s Olympism and Social Jus­tice Insti­tute became one of 10 Olympic studies cen­ters in the world last fall. What did it take to make this happen?
Sport in Society has been involved with Olympism and Olympic edu­ca­tion for many years. The ideas behind Olympism are very sim­ilar to the vision and values that guide Sport in Society. The Olympic Charter defines Olympism as “a phi­los­ophy of life, exalting and com­bining in a bal­anced whole the qual­i­ties of body, will and mind.”

Sport in Society has engaged in research, edu­ca­tion, out­reach and advo­cacy activ­i­ties related to these ideals. In dis­cus­sions with the IOC, we mutu­ally rec­og­nized the unique oppor­tu­nity to for­malize our activ­i­ties as an Olympic Studies Center. The IOC rec­og­nized our par­tic­ular focus in the con­text of linking research with edu­ca­tion, out­reach and advo­cacy to make an impact on indi­vid­uals and communities.

What has been your involve­ment with Olympism and the Olympic movement?
I had the honor and oppor­tu­nity to com­pete for the U.S. soccer team in the 1996 and 2004 Par­a­lympic Games. From this expe­ri­ence, I became very inter­ested in the edu­ca­tional teach­ings of Olympism and the Olympic move­ment. From 2002 to 2006, I had the oppor­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in and con­tribute to the Inter­na­tional Olympic Academy, based in Olympia, Greece. Since 2006, I have also col­lab­o­rated with Olympian speed skater Nathaniel Mills to develop the Olympism Project, an ini­tia­tive to pro­vide sub­stan­tive edu­ca­tion about Olympism for Olympic ath­letes. As an ath­lete, edu­cator and advo­cate, I have been inspired by Olympism-​​related work.

Is the Insti­tute involved cur­rently with the Winter Olympics in Van­couver?
The insti­tute has and will con­tinue to serve as a resource to ath­letes, coaches, admin­is­tra­tors, offi­cials and media involved with the Van­couver Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games. We pro­vide infor­ma­tion, mate­rials and insight about Olympism and social jus­tice issues. So far, we have pro­vided sup­port and assis­tance on topics including gender equity,athletes with­dis­abil­i­ties, diver­sity, nation­alism, peace and con­flict res­o­lu­tion, human rights, health and well­ness and lead­er­ship.

Do you address or con­duct research on topics such as whether ath­letes can change nation­al­i­ties to com­pete in the Olympics?

We do address issues related to nation­alism and national iden­tity. Inter­est­ingly, the Olympic charter states that, “The Olympic Games are com­pe­ti­tions between ath­letes in indi­vidual or team events and not between coun­tries.” We feel that ath­letes do have a right to choose how they want to iden­tify by country, as indi­vid­uals or as global cit­i­zens. It is impor­tant that there can be a public dis­course and dia­logue about this issue.

What is the most urgent long-​​term goal of this new Social Jus­tice Insti­tute?
The pri­mary goal of the insti­tute is to pro­vide edu­ca­tion and out­reach about Olympism and social jus­tice. We feel that there is a need for increased edu­ca­tion and aware­ness regarding Olympism, par­tic­u­larly with respect to issues of social jus­tice and human rights. By raising aware­ness, we hope to chal­lenge thinking, open dia­logue, and inspire lead­er­ship; this is the overall approach of Sport in Society, and we aim to also uti­lize this frame­work within the Olympism and Social Jus­tice Institute.

The Winter Olympics are coming to a close. What is your overall sense of this past com­pe­ti­tion? What would you change or improve?
Van­couver has hosted a great Olympics. There have been thrilling per­for­mances, and won­derful sto­ries have emerged from these Games. It does seem like these Games will have a long legacy in Canada and world­wide. It will be exciting to also see the Par­a­lympic Games from March 12 to 21. It does seem like there is an oppor­tu­nity for the orga­nizers of future Games to bring Olympism into the com­mu­nity before, during and after the Games in a more mean­ingful way. Through par­tic­i­pa­tory edu­ca­tion and out­reach, Olympism should be made vibrant and acces­sible as an approach to values edu­ca­tion and crit­ical thinking.