At a time when Beijing's Olympic mascots are endorsing everything from children's clothes to bottles of beer, the Games' organizing committee has moved to reaffirm its commitment to grass-roots Olympic education.
At a meeting in Beijing yesterday with Konstantinos Georgiadis, dean of the International Olympic Academy, Wang Hui , vice-director of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee's (BOCOG) media and communications department, said that education covering the Olympic movement's history and philosophy was at the core of preparations for 2008.
"Olympic education among teenagers and the promotion of the Olympic spirit and ideals is one of our priorities in the build-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics," she said.
"We want to spread Olympic knowledge and promote physical training in schools, and these are things BOCOG is already deeply involved with."
So far 20 Beijing schools have been selected as models to receive special Olympic education.
By the end of September 500 schools nationwide, including 200 in Beijing, will have been chosen to receive the Olympic syllabus.
While expressing admiration for the scale of the project and acknowledging the difficulty of reaching all the country's hundreds-of-millions of school children Georgiadis stressed the importance of striking a balance between the promotion and marketing of the Games and the promotion of the philosophy which inspired them.
"I think we have to be very careful to make sure the wrong message does not get across," he said.
"When I told my class at the university that I was going to teach them about Olympic ideals they said 'We already know; they're about drug cheats and bribery,' so it's easy for people to be cynical," he added.
After teaching the class, he said, the students gained a better appreciation of the ideals behind the games and 32 of them went on to help manage venues at the Athens Games in 2004.
"What I would say is, it is very important to make sure teachers are trained properly in teaching young people about the Olympics, it is vital that the teachers are getting the right messages across."
Covering ideals such as fair play and the enjoyment of participation, as well as the aims of physical and mental improvement, a program for Chinese schools explaining Olympism and the history of the games has been put together by BOCOG in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Wang said.
According to Wang, textbooks, examples of which were presented to Georgiadis, are being sent to schools across China and teachers will be trained to teach Olympic education classes.
"There was some concern that there could be some resistance to the Olympic philosophy because it is seen as coming from the West," said Georgiadis, "but it isn't specifically Western, it is a great universal philosophy that can apply to everyone."
(China Daily May 11, 2006)