Competition between schools deserves a sporting chance
The London Olympic Games later this year has focused minds on the place of competition, excellence and winning in sport.
Historically, the Games have allowed various countries to showcase their best athletes and the medal count represents a league table used by nations and their citizens to evaluate success and failure.
Recent events suggest that this might no longer be the case. Research funded by the European based Equity in Sport foundation concludes that not all countries and athletes have an equal chance of success.
As noted by one of the report’s authors, Dr Leveller, “Competitive sport is based on the premise that there will be winners and losers and not every competitor has the fitness, ability or genetic makeup to be a winner”.
“Having winners and losers is wrong, as is enforcing a reward system based on the belief that some individuals are stronger, faster or more gifted than others”, argues Dr Leveller.
The Equity in Sport report also argues that sporting is a socio-cultural construct that must be deconstructed in terms of the marginalised and dispossessed. In the report’s introduction, the argument is put that “differences in wealth, income, power or possessions should not be allowed to influence sporting outcomes”.
One of the report’s recommendations is that gold, silver and bronze medals no longer be awarded. According to Dr Levelller, “rewarding success is obsolete as the underlying belief system represents a binary, patriarchal and capitalist world-view”.
The impetus for change is supported by a UN Commission’s report titled And all shall be winners, and a World Bank Report that concluded that when competitors, coaches and officials failed to win they experienced low self-esteem and intense feelings of uncertainty and doubt.
In the new Games, as a result of adopting a criteria-based, diagnostic and collaborative approach to assessment, one where athletes are not ranked one against the other or against objective standards, it will be impossible to decide who wins and who losers.
The intention is that all participating athletes receive a Victory Medal, made out of environmentally friendly clay, on the basis that self-esteem and equity of outcomes will be guaranteed for all.
While some sporting traditionalists criticise the changes as too radical, a recent meeting of the Olympic Equity in Sport Commission has decided to initiate a pilot program involving events such as pole vaulting and the high jump.
Currently, athletes in both events are progressively eliminated as the bar is raised; in future Games the bar, at the first jump, will be set at a level impossible to clear. As all participants will be unable to clear the bar, a sense of collaborative bonding will be established.
Gradually, the bar will be lowered until all participants are able to step over it. The rules of swimming will also be redefined. Swimmers who achieve the fastest times in trials will be made to carry additional weights in the concluding event or be made to swim with one arm tied behind their backs.
Drawing on radical changes to schools in Australia, England and the US represented by progressive education, where competitive assessment and the ‘F’ word have been banned, the intention is to have all participants achieve success and to make it impossible to identify top performers.
Initial responses to the new rules are mixed. Traditionalists associated with the Australian Institute of Sport have attacked the new measures as a dumbed down, politically correct attempt at social engineering. They argue that sport is about competition, raising standards and achieving excellence.
Advocates of change, represented by the Australian chapter of the Equity in Sport foundation, argue a counter case. Instead of sport being elitist and the privilege of a few, it will now be possible for anyone, especially individuals from marginalised and disadvantaged groups, to participate, to feel valued and to achieve success.
While the federal Minister for Sport has yet to comment, a rumour is circulating that the resource rich and elitist Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra will be closed and its funding will be redistributed to less wealthy and less successful sporting clubs.
Any sporting organisation or club will be able to gain accreditation to become a Centre of Equity in Sport and any distinction between elite and popular sports will be erased.
In arguing the case for change, the Equity in Sport report points to the recent Gonski school funding report that argues priority must be given to disadvantaged schools on the basis that education must be about “equity of outcomes” and that “differences in wealth, income, power or possessions” should not influence whether students pass or fail.
Reference is also made to the Australian Government’s so-called education revolution where positively discriminating in favour of disadvantaged groups in relation to tertiary entry means that merit and ability no longer matter.
Those critical of competition in sport, similar to those critical of non-government and selective secondary schools, also argue that enforcing equity and achieving equality of outcomes are more important that rewarding success.
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