“O Sport, pleasure of the Gods…”

“O Sport, pleasure of the Gods, essence of life, you appeared suddenly in the midst of the grey clearing which writhes with the drudgery of modern existence, like the radiant messenger of a past age, when mankind still smiled.”

Pierre de Coubertin; “Ode to Sport” (1912)

Different schools have different sorts of sports days. For some it is an uber competitive event with student athletes looking to win for their own glory, to go down in the annals of the school as being the champion. Back in the 1980s there was a trend in certain London boroughs to have non-competitive sports days which excited certain elements of the media no end. One of my educational heroes, Kurt Hahn, was famous for the way that he organised sports days by sharing equipment between the most and least talented to make a race that was equal, or perhaps fair. Races in which all had a chance to compete well.

Both the Junior School and Senior School enjoy a sports day. These are wonderful, joyous events in which those who wish to compete have the opportunity to do so and those who wish to play their part rather than break records are also celebrated.

When I was at school, I was in the taking part camp rather than the breaking records group. I remember slogging around the track gaining a point for my house which seemed to be a good use of time at the time. At university I took part in the annual inter-college athletics event and was very proud of myself when I recorded the university’s shortest ever javelin throw. I wasn’t so worried, I gained a point for my college and had time to try the steeplechase which was a new experience. Yes, last in that one too. Possibly important to note is that I didn’t stop real athletes from taking part. And yes, I did enjoy the taking part. I am always really interested in seeing elite athletes and those who are truly talented do their thing, but I feel a real affinity with the plodders, stumblers and trundlers.

Over the course of our sports days, we see the best and the best of our communities. We cheer those who are scaling the heights, breaking records and achieving sporting excellence. We also cheer those who are doing their best for their house by simply getting round the track or throwing something sharp or heavy as far as they are able. That is what makes our sports days so very special.

Unlike any other sports day I have been involved with, the Senior School version also involves art, music and board games as part of the events. As we look towards Paris hosting the Olympic Games we should perhaps recall that the early modern games offered medals for a diverse range of activities including poetry (won in 1912 by Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern games), architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. This year we won’t be offering medals in these areas but having enjoyed the fête de la musique, who knows what the future may hold?

Sport brings us together. It provides opportunities for us to find out of what we are capable, and it challenges us to find meaning and enjoyment through physical activity. It is an important part of our school year and a lesson for life. a different note, I hope to see you at the Summer Fair tomorrow. Please support the barbeque stand.

Nicholas Hammond