Olympism and Cooperation

By Joe Romano, 

Marketing Manager

The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that's wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.

— John Williams

Over twenty-seven centuries ago, in the year 776 BC on the high plains of Olympia in Peloponnesos, Greece, a naked cook streaked for a distance just short of two hundred meters to outrun the other naked Greek men running behind him. No, he had not just prepared a bad meal at a nudist colony. His name was Coroebus, a cook from the city of Elis, and he was the first Olympic champion. Moments later, he would be awarded a sacred olive-leaf laurel in a ceremony not unlike those of Olympiads we see today, a judge would place a palm branch in his hands, the spectators would cheer and throw flowers to him, and red ribbons would be tied on his head and hands as a mark of victory.

This month, the world will be watching the twenty-second modern Olympic Winter Games. They will be held in Sochi, Russia, amid concerns both political and social, as is common these days. As we go to press, seven more people suspected as terrorist threats were killed by Russian officials in a "pre-Olympic militant sweep." Concerns about Russia's intolerant laws and policies regarding homosexuality are casting a chill over participants and those traveling to watch the games. China aroused similar concerns in 2008 over their civil-rights policies, their treatment of Tibet, and their involvement in other nations' conflicts. Even in 2012 at the London games, there were controversies ranging from the large number of prominent junk-food sponsors to the wearing of the hijab by female Muslim participants, to the ongoing Falkland Island disputes.

So why, if they promote competition, junk food, nationalism, and intolerance should we compare the Olympics with our beloved ideal of cooperation? Precisely because, absent the ever-present media hype about everything, the Olympics don't promote any of these ideals.

They actually espouse most of the beliefs we do. We have seven ideals that guide us, our seven cooperative principles: Voluntary and Open Membership, Democratic Member Control, Members' Economic Participation, Autonomy and Independence, Education, Cooperation among Cooperatives, and Concern for Community.

The Seven Principles of Olympism as put forth by the Olympic Charter are these:

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will, and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility, and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

3. The Olympic Movement is the concerted, organized, universal, and permanent action, carried out under the supreme authority of the IOC, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world's athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games. Its symbol is five interlaced rings.

4. The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.

5. Recognizing that sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organizations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organizations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence, and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.

6. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

7. Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC.

It is because of these principles and the ideals that they promote that over 200 nations will take part and that over 3 billion people are expected to watch worldwide. Not because of the competitive spirit of all those watching. Not because it affords us a chance to prove we are better than everyone else. Instead, it offers the world a way to watch as our finest athletes bring their best selves to a place where the finest athletes in the world have assembled to exhibit "the joy of effort," finally celebrating those whose effort is the best on that day in the name of us all.

That is what cooperation does. It operates on "the joy of effort" in the name of us all. We operate a co-op in Ithaca, New York, but that does not translate to an Ithaca that is free from conflict, distrust, and inequity. It does translate, however, to a community where our cooperative ideals and our joyful efforts are on display 365 days a year. Co-ops stand in their communities — much like the Olympic torch — as a light that shines on our best efforts as humans. The co-op, like the Olympics, shows what it's like if we come together as people.

Finally, our co-op suffered a great loss this month. Chris Lampart, a cook in our kitchen since 2004, and one of our beloved fellow workers, was tragically killed while crossing Rt. 79 in Enfield near his home. Chris, or "CL," as he was often called, loved music and film and life in his very own wild, wonderful way. It is with deep sadness and regret that we must say goodbye to one of our own. I would not be too surprised if he were hanging with Coroebus, the naked chef, dreaming up new recipes, arguing about music and talking of many things: "Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings."

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