The Health Awareness Team will be e-mailing monthly 'Health Bulletins', which will include issues relating to health awareness, identifying symptoms and general updates. The purpose is to increase health awareness amongst our community members.
Salaams and Duas,
Physical fitness and moral fibre: the inspiration for the modern Olympics
By Dr Abbas Ramji
Sixty-four years since London last hosted the most prestigious games on earth, during the summer of 2012 the capital of England yet again celebrated the awe-inspiring collation of sporting events that is known as the modern Olympics. Whether you are interested in the Olympics or not, it is an event that takes place every four years that is practically impossible to avoid. It not only is a merriment of sporting prowess, but represents all nations from across the globe, without exception, coming together peacefully to promote the qualities that sustain life itself, physical fitness and moral fibre.
London’s bid to host the Olympic games won favour from the International Olympic Committee at the expense of strong rival bids from other cities due to one pivotal pledge, the commitment to inspire the younger generation to partake in sport and in turn promote fitness intertwined with morality for generations to come, extending the games beyond the few weeks that they physically span across to a transformative continuum. This runs to the very core of the inspiration of the modern Olympics itself, the essence of why the Olympics were resurrected. When we reflect upon these Olympic pillars of promoting fitness and morality, we become conscious of how this mirrors our Shia Islamic religion. It is often discussed within the realms of our faith that we must work towards promoting our wellbeing, both physically and spiritually in order to optimise benefits of this world and the hereafter.
London’s Olympic Organising Committee ingeniously promoted the story of how the modern Olympics were enthused in a very subtle manner that may have escaped even the most discerning spectator. The 2012 Olympic mascot, a one eyed alien-looking blue creature was named Wenlock. Delving into the eye of Wenlock opens up the tale of a single minded English country doctor, William Penny Brookes, born in 1809 in Much Wenlock, Shrophire, England. Dr Brookes trained in surgery in London and also ironically in Paris, the unsuccessful rival Olympic city bidder, before returning to his home in the English Midlands to take over his father’s medical practice in 1831. As a self-fulfilled Victorian philanthropist, Dr Brookes immersed himself into building and developing his local community, having almost solitarily established the local school, improved the roads, introduced street lighting and brought railway to his town.
However, more than all these esteemed accomplishments, his true ambition was to revive the ancient Olympics. Dr Brookes set up the Wenlock Agricultural Reading society in 1841, and less than a decade later, an off shoot from this organisation was the Wenlock Olympic Society. This organisation devoted itself to staging an annual sporting event to “promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement” of the town’s inhabitants, “especially of the working classes by the encouragement of outdoor recreation”. Perhaps it can be argued that this nineteenth century committee in the rural English countryside was the modern inspiration of outdoor physical games in schools across the world. Dr Brookes’ knowledge about premature deaths among weavers through a lack of outdoor exercise was recorded as his inspiration. He was well known for lobbying the British Government of the era to make physical exercise a compulsory element of the school curriculum, using evidence that he collected from Wenlock schoolboys that gymnastics improves physique. Likewise, our Jamaats across the world also aim to promote sports within our communities as a central activity. This not only promotes improved physical health of our communities, but contributes towards enhanced social cohesion, the essential ingredient for a successful community.
Utilising the ideals of the creativeness of ancient Greek athletics, the first games initiated by Dr Brookes were held in a field in the crisp English autumn of 1850 with the full pageantry and eccentricity of a village fayre. Sports included hurdles, running, cricket, football, cycling on penny farthings, blindfolded wheelbarrow races and even a race for “old women” to win a pound of tea. These games continue annually even today.
Dr Brookes’ sights were set beyond Much Wenlock to an international stage. He initially lobbied the local council until the Shropshire Olympic Games, a regional county-wide games were setup in 1861. Having then co-founded the British National Olympic Association, he helped establish Britain’s first national Olympics held in Crystal Palace, London in 1866. He continued his plight by diligently lobbying the Greek Government to reinstate the International Olympic games. This inspirational beacon who campaigned throughout his life for an Olympic games to promote physical fitness and moral fibre passed away weeks before the first modern Olympics opened in Athens in 1896. Using this year’s Olympic games, we as a global community must take inspiration from this individual to promote well-being and improved health among ourselves both individually and collectively. Regional sports tournaments are held among our community on a regular basis but perhaps they only attract a sector from within our community. The challenge now lies in how to modify these tournaments to promote on-going improved health throughout the year as a continuum and to also consider how such events can appeal to the wider community as do the Olympic games themselves.
Moore W (2012). A doctor’s lifelong campaign to revive the Olympic games. BMJ, 344, 51.
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