Olympic Education Programmes of Host Cities

Dikaia Chatziefstathiou

Although broadly speaking the term ‘Olympic education’ is somewhat ambiguous in what it means and embraces (Chatziefstathiou 2011), when it comes to the programmes of the host cities during an Olympiad (the four years cycle between the Games) its meaning becomes more clear. People often recognise as ‘Olympic education’ the programmes traditionally offered to primary and secondary schools (often in the form of an educational pack e.g. Sydney 2000; Athens 2004) but Olympic education programmes also include other sectors such as staff and voluntary training, teacher education, community education and involvement of Further & High Education (FE & HE). Figure 1 illustrates some of the most common aims for educational legacies as found by Graver et al. (2010) from looking at candidature files of previous hosts.




Although the staging and delivery of each Games has common characteristics in terms of their management and running, yet there are some distinctive differences which reflect the cultural, economic, political and social conditions of the host nations. Such disparities are also found in the different Olympic education programmes of the host nations, hence also in the involvement of the FE & HE sectors with each Games. In terms of the FE & HE, their engagement could take many different forms such as delivery of vocational training, use of volunteers, use of facilities, course development etc. In the following sections the role of the FE & HE in Sydney’s and Beijing’s Games will be discussed before looking closer at London 2012.

Beijing 2008
The different political systems of China and Canada naturally lead into some major variances in the way that FE & HE were involved with the Games in these two cases. China’s system of political parties is a system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), not a Western-style multiparty system. The CPC is at the core of the country’s leadership and the ruling party, while the non-communist parties are participating parties (Lo, 1999). The education system in China and other sectors of civil society is largely ‘top-down’, which means that Olympic education was also centralised and overseen by the central ministries and the Communist Party bodies through Olympic Education Affairs, and Olympic Training Affairs Steering Groups at national, provincial and local level (Henry et al, 2008) [1].

Without doubt one of the areas that the FE & HE sectors were highly involved was volunteering. Volunteers directly involved in the games totalled 77,169, with another 44,261 for the Paralympics [2]. There were also four million city volunteers, and over ten million social volunteers. Venue volunteers mainly consisted of university students, while elderly volunteers from communities made up the majority of social and city volunteers. Li Mingying, a volunteer from Beijing Technology and Business University who served at the Laoshan Venue Cluster said: “The Olympic Games have greatly improved us psychologically. By being a volunteer for it, we have also honed our work abilities and obtained much social work experience.” Mo Qiong, a student majoring in public utilities who was enrolled into Beijing Institute of Technology in 2006 saw his Olympic volunteering experience as a catalyst in developing team awareness and explains how he still maintains close friendship links with his group of the former ‘Wukesong Venue Volunteers’.

The Chinese institutions also adapted their curriculum to the new Olympic-related needs and a high number of institutions introduced elective and required courses. A part of all four sections of education (staff and voluntary training, teacher, community and school education) took place in universities with a range of training courses being developed (e.g. since 2006 a training course for Olympic volunteers for all first year and graduate students at Beijing University). Moreover, six Olympic venues were located in universities (four new and six existing) eight major Olympic research centres were established, a range of conferences and cultural activities were organised, over 200 text books were published (academic, populist, basic, professional and subject-specific on Olympic venues and volunteer/ staff positions) on a range of topics (e.g. ‘Beijing Olympic Games Text Book for University Students’, ‘Beijing Olympic Games Text Book for Volunteers’, ‘Beijing 2008 Language Text Book for Medical Service Staff’, ‘A Guide to the Olympic Culture for College Students’), and various partnerships and contracts were established with Chinese and international universities with the Media.

Although China’s government stirred controversy over human rights issues , a subject which won’t be discussed here as it extends beyond the scope of this chapter, the centralisation of decision making in relation to education had some obvious advantages. As Henry et al (2008) argued:

“The system has several advantages. First and foremost, the education resources of the whole country can be rationally allocated; Olympic programmes and initiatives can be efficiently and widely implemented and the enthusiasm of involved personnel (e.g. teachers, volunteers, students, staff etc.) can be stimulated and harnessed by this system (p. 5)”

The Chinese state was committed to use the Games as a vehicle for showcasing China’s emergence as a world force in the political, economic and cultural scene. Therefore for achieving such global recognition China made a well-concentrated effort which, as shown above, also entailed educating and spreading the Olympic message across the Chinese population including colleges and universities.

Sydney 2000 [3]

Although education was not included in Sydney’s candidature file (PcW, 2002), Cashman and Toohey (2002) argue that the HE sector had the highest contribution to Olympic and Paralympic Games than ever before. However they note that this was mostly due to a gradually closer relationship between the universities and the Olympic organisers through the years. Indicatively they refer to the Host Broadcast Training Programme, which provided 630 students from six universities and North Sydney Technical and Further Education colleges (TAFE) with valuable practical experience in radio and television broadcasting. However, the Host Broadcasting Training Program had begun in Barcelona 1992 Games in order to offer vocational opportunities to young people and was then carried out in Atlanta 1996 Games with great success. As they comment ‘the strengths of the links between the higher education sector and the Olympic Movement was widely recognised by 2000’ (p. 72) and continued ‘there is no doubt that the contribution of the higher education sector to the success of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was impressive and substantial in every respect’. In the University Business (USA) it was stated that ‘the Olympic Games in Sydney saw unprecedented involvement from higher education sector’, while the Times Higher Education Supplement (UK) reported that ‘from designing the Olympic site to keeping it mosquito-free, from illuminating the 100,000-capacity stadium to predicting visitor numbers, academics – in their thousands – are getting involved in what one describes as the “biggest peacetime event to take place in Australia”. And they are advancing research and developing new insights in the process’ (cited in Cashman and Toohey, 2002: 72).

The NSW universities provided circa 6,000 students as volunteers with posts related to their courses and with course credits awarded to them in many cases, while some of those volunteers were human resource management students and assisted in the interview process of 65,000 potential volunteers (Cashman and Toohey, 2002; PwC, 2008). Also in some cases students received valuable experience with international companies (e.g. Advantage International for IBM Surf Shack) or paid contracts (e.g. with the National Broadcasting Company, NBC). As Brendan Lynch, the Programme Manager, Volunteer Recruitment and Coordinator and University Liaison for the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG), said ‘the intention of involving the universities in the volunteer programme was to ensure that the students received valuable experience, that the universities were able to provide real practical experience for their students, and that SOCOG received well-trained volunteers’ (cited in Cashman and Toohey, 2002: 31).

Eventually more than half of the total 45 Australian universities in Sydney, NSW and the regions involved with the Games on a variety of activities. Over twenty Memorandums of Understanding were signed between higher education institutions and SOCOG, Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organisation (SOBO), Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and NSW Government. Three Olympic study centres were established in joint partnerships between universities and the AOC: the Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of South Wales in May 1996; the Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of South Australia in June 1996; and later in 2000 the Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Queensland.

However, what has been perhaps the most successful story in terms of the Sydney 2008 Games was the involvement of the FE with the training for the Olympic and Paralympic Games employees and volunteers, a total of approximately 110, 000 people. The Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions are a key provider of vocational education and training (VET) in Australia. TAFE NSW (a consortium of all eleven NSW colleges) was selected in 1997 to become ‘the Official Training Services Support for the 2000 Olympic Games’ and in 1999 it was announced that it would also be ‘the Official Training Partner of the 2000 Paralympic Games’ in partnership with the workforce Training Team. Key organisations such as Adecco and Westpac developed strong links with TAFE NSW and training was provided to public and private sector companies such as Coca-Cola, Carlton United Breweries, State Rail etc. Until today they have secured multi-million dollar contracts for providing training services, e.g. in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Sydney 2003 World Cup, All Africa 2003 Games, 2006 Doha Asian Games, Shanghai World Expo 2010 (Premier NSW press release, 2008).

Although it is obvious that the FE and HE sectors were highly involved with the preparation and the staging of the Sydney 2008 Games, it is argued that HEIs and TAFEs mostly worked separately and did not develop joint collaborations and partnerships which could have been mutually beneficial (Cashman and Toohey, 2002). Also the majority of the institutions involved were based in Sydney while universities and colleges outside Sydney and NSW were uncertain about the role they could have or develop in relation to the Games (PcW, 2008) or they found distance to be a major issue in terms of a closer participation (Cashman and Toohey, 2002). A factor which also determined universities’ engagement with the Games was whether they had become successful in winning an Olympic contract. Several institutions showed a decline in their Olympic-related activities after a lack of a formal collaboration with the Olympic organisers (e.g. the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Sydney). As Cashman and Toohey (2002) point out:

“While some institutions had very elaborate and well-organised Olympic programmes, others did not; while some institutions clearly articulated their aims and expected outcomes, others were less well prepared and focused…as a result while some institutions believed that they gained considerable ongoing benefit…others reported no great institutional benefits and even a sense of disappointment that an opportunity had been missed (p. 42).”

Therefore although HE and FE sectors contributed to the Games in different ways, it cannot be claimed that a collective, systematic and coherent Olympic programme was developed across the country in involving universities and colleges.

In-text References

[1] Podium commissioned the Centre for Olympic Studies & Research (COS&R) at Loughborough University and the Irish Institute of Chinese Studies (IICS) at the University College Cork to research the contribution of the Further and Higher Education sectors in China to the staging and delivery of the 2008 Games. The discussion in this chapter about the case study of Beijing Games 2008 relies upon the findings of this research which is the only comprehensive research in relation to the role that the FE & HE played in those Games. 

[2] For a detailed account of the different types of volunteers, volunteer education and participating institutions read the report by Henry et al (2008).

[3] Our knowledge about the contribution of the Further and Higher Education sectors to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sydney 2008 derives mostly from two reports; the first focused only on HE and published in 2002 by the Centre for Olympic Studies of the University of South Wales in Australia[1], and the second published in 2008 by Podium, the Unit for FE & HE for the London 2012 Games and London Higher (Podium’s parent body).