Sunday, 8 November 2009

Or maybe that's one project...

Wow. What a weekend. I've just been on the British Council International Climate Champion weekend workshop, refining my project plan for the coming year. And it's shifted things quite a bit. It all culminated in a short pitch, which is below.

Sport Uncut – creating a world where sport is an act of appreciation of nature, not a fight for money and fame

My project is to unleash the latent power of endurance athletes – marathon, ultramarathon and long distance triathletes – as a force for change.

This is a project with significant potential impact, for three reasons.
1) This audience is full of the kind of people who, if they do something, do it properly. You don’t complete a marathon without some commitment.
2) We have a deep visceral connection with the natural world – we know in our bodies if not always in our minds how much we depend on nature
3) We know (again implicitly rather than explicitly) that sport has gone wrong somewhere; we know that it’s not just about winning and losing

My project is to make this understanding, this deeply held knowledge, explicit. I see a world where endurance athletes are at the forefront of the ecological revolution that is just starting to emerge.

I am going to do this via 3 angles of approach

The first will be to define new types of endurance event, events where the competition is explicitly not just about the quickest time. We have a desperately narrow-minded conception of competition today – but the word originally comes from the Latin ‘cum + petere’, to strive together. I believe we can recapture this meaning, and my first idea is to work with an existing event, the Jurassic Coast Challenge ultramarathon next March, to find new ways – including a photography competition integrated into the ultra itself. The athletes will be striving together, not only to complete the course, but to fully appreciate the greatest moments of the race.

The second will be to celebrate and catalyse the production of new types of kit, more coherent with our attachment to the natural world than the desire to win at all costs. In the long term, I can imagine new forums, magazines, and so on being established – but for now I will start by establishing a stand at existing sports shows, bringing together such innovations as limestone-based wetsuits, bamboo and flax bikes, and ‘barefoot’ running shoes, under the banner of ‘the athlete of the future’.

Finally, I want to start to engage with the psychology of endurance sport, and sport as a whole, looking to understand where our narrow definition of competition has come from, and seek a new language for those of us who see an altogether broader reality. I hope to have the opportunity to do a PhD, and this would be the heart of my inquiry.

In the long term, imagine an alternative Olympics – an Olympics where we are striving together in appreciation of the natural world, not fighting over whether it’s the swimsuit or the swimmer, the athlete or the steroids, that are ‘winning’ the race.

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