Sport and Art: The Connections, the Similarities and the Opportunity to Create a New Platform to Promote Peace
As an athlete and an artist, I struggled for years to balance both sport and art in my life. But on my journey to becoming an Olympic athlete and then an Olympic artist, I realized that these two, seemingly different subjects, aren’t different at all, in fact they are so intertwined it’s difficult to separate them.
Sport and art are the two most universal languages we have. They enable us to express ourselves physically, emotionally and even intellectually, allowing us to connect and communicate with each other around the world, crossing borders, cultures, languages and generations. If we blend these two languages into one, I believe we could create a powerful new vehicle and platform that could reach, and connect with, an even bigger audience.
It took me over 30 years to realize and understand how alike sport and art are. The closer I looked the more and more connections and similarities I found. I felt like an explorer discovering a new world. But how could I get others to see what I see, after all it took me 3 decades and sport and art was (is) my entire life.
My first opportunity came 10 years ago when I was appointed as an Olympian Sport Art Ambassador for the British Government’s 2012 Olympic Legacy Program. I held dozens of sport art workshops at Sports Colleges across the UK. As I guided students to create unique pieces of sport themed artwork, I talked about the connections and similarities between sport and the arts. I began with the most obvious examples like women’s gymnastics floor routines, figure skating and synchronized swimming which all have music, choreography and costume design as an integral part of the performance.
Then I discussed color and how colors are so much part of sports, from determining winners – Gold, Silver, Bronze, the Tour De France’s Yellow Jersey and the PGA’s Augusta National Master’s Tournament’s Green Jacket, to showing an athletes skill level in the martial arts – colored belts, to officiating games and matches where referees and umpires use colored penalty cards. I continued talking about how color and color combinations define our sporting teams as does typography, font styles, graphic designs, logos and mascots.
I asked students questions: about trophies, medals, rings, pins, stamps, sporting programs and sports posters? Who makes them? Artisans, craftsman, graphic designers and artists – right? I explained athletes in basketball, football and ice hockey are no different than actors, dancers or musicians on a stage giving a performance. They all must practice, know their places and roles and work together for their team to succeed, be it an athletic event or an artistic performance. Isn’t a coach the same as an orchestra conductor or a film director? What about the Olympics Games – The most sort after tickets are the opening and closing ceremonies – music, dancing, they are huge very elaborate productions. And what about all the tattoos – artwork – on so many of our top athletes now? Before the workshops began, the students rated the sport art connection on average a ‘2’ out of ‘10’ – with ‘10’ being they are the same and ‘0’ being they are completely different. By the end of each class the ratings changed dramatically from a ‘2’ to about an ‘8’!
Over the past decade, I have had an increasing number of opportunities to promote and expand the sport art connection. Most recently I became the Ambassador for a global art competition called “Expressions 2017” hosted by St. Lawrence High School, Kolkata, India in association with its alumni, St. Lawrence Old Boys’ Association. The aim of the competition is to tap into the creative minds of our young people, through art, to see what they think about peace and sport and maybe, just maybe, get a fresh idea or a new perspective that could promote peace worldwide.
If we look at sport and art, and the arts, as being about creativity, imagination and personal expression you’ll begin to see things as I do. And once you see the connections, then, maybe, you can see the possibilities of how sport and art, combined into a special program, could be an ideal platform for interaction, engagement and discussion of ideas and thoughts. If we can communicate and understand each other, we lay down a stronger foundation for a more peaceful world.
Peace and Sport’s #WhiteCard campaign has been an enormous success raising awareness of the contribution sport can make to the global peacebuilding process. But when I look at the photos of people holding up the white cards I have a question: What’s on the other side of the card? What if there was a word, a phrase, a thought, a poem or a drawing or part of a painting that expressed an idea or feeling about what peace means?