Beyond Sport

'Beyond Sport,' and the right thing to do

CHICAGO -- Far too often it is said overseas that the primary interest -- indeed, perhaps the only interest -- in the United States in the Olympic movement is money. That is, making as much money as possible off the Olympics.

The rest? The Olympic spirit and all that? Commitment to the values that underpin the Olympic ideal? Attention to the idea that sport can cut across social and political differences and move the world forward, bit by bit?

Those who would hold fast to the idea that it's only a dash for cash here in the States ought to have been part of the crowd Wednesday at the opening of what was called the 2010 "Beyond Sport" summit.

"Fellow agents of positive social change," Jordan's Prince Feisal Al Hussein, an International Olympic Committee member and the founder of an initiative called "Generations for Peace," said in beginning a speech that focused on "how we can get sport to effect great and lasting social change."

It's not treacly and it's not saccharine to say such things.  Just the opposite. Talking about such values and such goals -- and then doing something about it -- is what makes it all real.

That said, the point here Wednesday was not that world peace suddenly broke out. Of course not.

The point is that there are efforts underway to recognize the distinct role that sport, and the Olympic movement in particular, can play in effecting change.

"This is what the 'Beyond Sport' summit is all about -- getting the world to listen," the prince said from the lectern.

World Sport Chicago, the group created to promote the legacy of Chicago's unsuccessful 2016 bid, played a key role in organizing the event here, which runs through Thursday.

Again: Chicago is not now in the bid game. If Chicago ever again launches an Olympic bid, it will be many years down the line. Yet here were World Sport Chicago and the United States Olympic Committee, stepping up -- with no expectation of immediate pay-off from the IOC, maybe no bid-related pay-off ever.

It was just the right thing to do.

"We think it's important for Chicago, and for the United States, to host these international sports conferences and events," Bill Scherr, the president of World Sport Chicago, said in an interview, adding, "We think it connects us."

Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the USOC, took part in the very first panel discussion on the agenda, an examination of "legacy delivery."

"Yes, we're doing a lot. No, we're not doing enough," Caryl Stern, the president and chief executive of UNICEF USA, said as part of that panel.

Added Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of AEG Worldwide, "We have to do more," noting that sports and music are "the only two entities that break through."

"A generation ago, this conference wouldn't happen," Blackmun said, noting the power of the stories of Olympic athletes to inspire not just young people but influence-makers on Capitol Hill.

Just last Saturday, at the conclusion of the USOC's annual assembly in Colorado Springs, Colo., Blackmun, asked about the way he and USOC board chairman Larry Probst have this year quietly but pointedly emphasized a commitment to relationship-building with international sports officials, said, "I think the 90-degree right turn is for us to be more engaged and become more active participants.

"That," he said, "means showing up."

Like at events such as Beyond Sport.

Among other provocative discussions on the schedule here:

What good can sports celebrities do -- what's possible and what's not?

How can sport provide opportunities for girls' and women's education?

Can sports programs help reduce youth violence? How?

"There could be no greater legacy to Chicago's Olympic bid than to commit to Chicago's young people… [and to explore] how sport can play a crucial role in the urban environment," Nick Keller, the founder of Beyond Sport, said Wednesday from the lectern.

Again, the point is not that answers were fully divined in the great ballroom of the Palmer House in Chicago's Loop.

It's the pursuit of those answers.

That is, the affirmation of some of the key values that animate the Olympic spirit between editions of the Games, among them "courage, boldness, tenacity, humanity," Keller said in asserting, "We want you to be moved … to forge the next set of connections … to use sport to address the next set of the world's great challenges."

"We all believe sport can bring youth away from and into very important things, away from crime, away from violence, and into academics, into sport, into character development," Pat Ryan, the head of the Chicago 2016 bid and chairman of World Sport Chicago, said in his address.

"Archimedes once said, 'Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth,' " Prince Feisal said a moment or two later.

It was the "prerogative" of those in the room to do so, he said, then paused and corrected himself: "No, it's our duty."