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7 September, 2020

Philosophy: a science that was born from sport

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We have a completely wrong idea of how philosophy was born. The image of wise men who never got up from their seats clung to their academies and universities, has little to do with philosophers like Socrates, one of its greatest representatives. He was one of the fittest thinkers, praised by his generals in all three battles he participated, the last of which he was over fifty years old. Like the rest of the Greek contemporaries, he paid special attention to take care of his body, his physical condition, and his running performance. Cardio and strength training was a fundamental training for hand-to-hand wars, and also for the games held in honour of their gods.

Socrates transmitted the importance of taking care of the body by means of sports practice to his disciple Plato, and this in turn to his disciple Aristotle. Thus, the three most important names in ancient philosophy, influenced by the idea that sport was fundamental in the search for wisdom, incorporating physical exercise into all their philosophical treatises. It makes perfect sense if we think that Greek philosophy was born out of an interest in caring for the body. The first doctors not only had to consult their decisions with the athletes, but they also considered exercise as a medicine to recover health and worked every day with young people at the gyms. Diocles of Carystus, a physician who lived in the fourth century B.C., left a good testimony of this practice in two of his works, about “a healthy lifestyle” and “diets”, which can be considered the first two treatises on sports training and nutrition. When those young athletes became philosophers, they continued to consider sports as the basis for understanding what the human being was, and therefore, achieving wisdom.

Plato assures in his writings that physical education must be a part of the educational program of young people. And Aristotle, Alexander the Great’s teacher, assures that physical exercise preserves health and increases the individual’s courage and strength.

The intellectual influence of these philosophers was fundamental in monk schools in the middle age; although from that moment on, the sporting part lost its importance. However, their ideas did reach out with the rest of their work, and in 1970, when the ethics and philosophy of sports began to be discussed again, they recovered their leading role. In the late twentieth century, modern philosophers reflected on what sport is, separating it from mere play. They defined it as a game of physical skill, widely followed by practitioners and fans and that remains in time within a society, as one of its manifestations. Nevertheless, their most interesting reflection was on the rules or regulations of each sport, and their relationship with ethics. Along this way, until today, the idea has been built that any sport, whether practised professionally or as an amateur, can reflect the values of a society and generate positive behaviours that improve it. Nowadays, equality between men and women, or non-discrimination based on race or origin, are an inseparable part of any team competition, as well as events where the individual athlete stands out, such as the Olympic Games.

In fact, the idea (acquainted to the Greek philosophers), that sports serve to achieve wisdom and transform through education, has powerful examples nowadays. One of the most highlighted is that of those NGOs that promote the practice of football for social change. This is what The Third Half does, a foundation dedicated to supporting the UN Development Goals by facilitating trips to play football in other countries, learning about and supporting cultures, as well as the local development of boys and girls who grow up in neighbourhoods with fewer resources. There are groups associated with this international foundation that works at a local level, with projects as interesting as Rumah Cemara, which organises football matches in the streets of Indonesia aimed at integrating young people who have given up drug addiction back into society. Dream a dream, works with the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in India, and Dragones de Lavapiés integrates students from distinct emigration cultures, Latin Americans, Muslims, and Asians through competition, so that they form a community united in their differences. Brazil Love Football provides pitches to those neighbourhoods where children need a space to play.

And the Barça Foundation has an ambitious program to fight bullying by facilitating play and training programs for physical education teachers.

But it is not even necessary to be limited to large organisations, or to professional sports. Plogging is an increasingly widespread activity that consists of collecting the small waste we find in places where we practice sports. This practice was started by the Swedish Erik Ahlström in 2016 in Stockholm, a running fan. His routine of collecting paper or plastic bottles soon spread throughout Sweden, and today it is a global phenomenon involving more than 20 000 people in more than a hundred countries.

So today we not only know that philosophy was born from sport, but it has also returned to it, and that leadership, ethics and social responsibility are essential matters to know for any of its professionals and fans.

 

Martín Sacristán

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