Saturday, August 11, 2012

None the Richer: Why the Olympics Don’t Inspire Us to Have Better Bodies or More Money

Every two years when the Olympics dominate the media and influence water cooler chit chat, there are always a couple of sore points that can come up on a personal level—blowing budgets and being out of shape.  Not that Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympics) ever planned it this way. His created the Olympics to promote goodwill among rival nations, and, more importantly perhaps, inspire the common folk to aspire for excellence in their daily lives.

Excellence in our daily lives includes being fit and healthy both physically and financially. On a national level that means a lower rate of obesity and a balanced national budget. On the home front, that means an active family life full of sports and recreation along with a balanced household budget.  

With North American obesity rates in children rising above 30 percent and an ever-increasing per capita rate of both public and private debt, the Olympics is an interesting phenomenon.  On the one hand, the Olympics are all about physical activity and money, but on the other hand they don’t seem to be doing a good job of inspiring excellence in either of those areas of life beyond the podium.

Think about it. One of the dominant narratives of the modern Olympics is budget overruns. Take this year’s London Olympics. Back in June, before the games even started, economists were predicting that this would be the most over-budget Games since Atlanta in 1996, which went over by 147 percent. A study of the previous 17 Olympics suggests that the average cost overrun for the Games is a staggering 179 percent. 

Ironically, critics grumble about Olympic budget overruns, but at the same time do not have a budget in place to monitor their personal household spending, which could easily be over 179 percent as well. And, how many of us make a family “activity” out of huddling around the TV eating junk food while watching super-fit athletes go for gold?

The Olympics have been coming and going every two years for a long time now.  Despite legacy programs that have put money back into host communities through a variety of literacy-based grants, it’s a wonder that our bodies and our bank accounts are not any richer for it. It could be that the lack of basic literacy around physical activity caused by severe cuts to physical education programs in schools coupled with the lack of financial education in the school curriculum is making it harder for us to be inspired by the Olympics.

I’ve heard it said that knowledge acquisition is like Velcro. Nothing sticks unless there is something for it to stick to. Bringing back physical education to elementary schools and introducing financial education to the curriculum could go a long way toward inspiring Olympic-level excellence and helping future generations have better bodies and more money.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
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