An extract from our Rektor’s opening address at the first College Meeting of term for students and staff:

I must admit to having been gripped with Olympic fever over recent weeks – and the force of the Olympics to unite nations through sport.

Conversation, companionship and compassion

Conversation, companionship and compassion

We, within the United World College movement, see our role as to sustain peace, not through sport, but through education. The Olympic symbol of the five interlocking rings, designed in 1912, represents the union of the five regions of the world and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. Our UWC logo of two rings, encompassing the globe within, echoes this symbol of unity.

The Olympics, hosted by the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, caught many of our imaginations with more than 10,000 athletes, representing 207 nations, competing in 31 sports, with 306 medals awarded. It has been reported that there were 3,7 billion people actively engaged through media with the Rio Olympics out of a world population of 7.4 billion with 350 million people watching the opening ceremony.

Controversy of course followed the Olympics: political protests, Zika, empty seats, doping bans, unsporting behaviour, alongside the triumph and disaster of the competitors.

We will all have our favourite moments.

I have chosen two of my favourite parts of the Olympics for today’s opening address as we set out on a new academic year at RCN:

Firstly, the initiative for a refugee team competing under the flag of the International Olympic Committee – in the spirit of solidarity.

Six men and four women from South Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

As Yonas Kinde, the marathon runner originally from Ethiopia explained to the world press: ‘We are equal now. We compete like human beings, like the others’ – sending a message of hope to all refugees in the world.

Inclusion. We see you.

A new graffiti mural in Rio now honours the individual members of the first Olympic Refugee Team.

Helping each otherSecondly, one of the most moving moments of the games was when a New Zealand and an American runner stopped to help each other after a collision in their heat for the 5000 metres. An encapsulation, for me, of the Olympic spirit.

The values of friendship, respect, harmony and peace are at the heart of both Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement’s vision and the vision of the United World College movement. The games provide us with an opportunity to gather every four years, when the world is often faced with turbulence and trouble – and to strive to celebrate what is best about mankind.

With the Olympics in mind and as we set out on the next academic year, we must all seek to do, and be, the best we can.