Olympism through its Web Sites
On-line information about Olympism has two main sources: the International Olympic Committee and the organizer committees for the Olympic Games. Up to just a few months ago, the latter was only the case for Atlanta'96. Since then it has been joined by the upcoming hosts: Nagano'98 and Sydney'2000.

The IOC and the OCOGS, as a result of their strategic positions and leading roles, are the ones who generate the greatest flow of information about Olympism. Besides them, there are many other institutions supplying information via the Internet. In an attempt to classify them, we could refer to the following major categories of Olympic information sources (see TABLES 1, 2, 3 and 4):

  • Candidate cities
  • International Sports Federations recognized by the IOC
  • National Olympic Committees
  • Sponsors
  • The Media
  • Academic committees specializing in Olympism and sport
  • Miscellaneous initiatives, including private Web sites

Except for the media and academic centers, the remaining institutions tend to create Web sites to disseminate information about themselves, generally with marketing or business objectives.

In this sense, it is significant to find that candidate cities are the ones who have created and launched their Web sites faster. They are followed by sponsors whose presence on the Internet obeys rather more complex logic and wider objectives than Olympic references in themselves, yet they are mixed up with all Olympic information searchers.

In May 1997, 54 % of International Sports Federations had their own Web sites. National Olympic Committees account for a somewhat lower percentage. Only 17 % of NOCs had this information resource available as at the same date.

An interesting aspect of the NOCs presence on the Internet is the existence of Web sites for Committees who do not belong to the first world in terms of technological and industrial development. This is the case for the Olympic Committees of South Africa, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Malta, Croatia, Slovalda, Lithuania, Estonia and Kenya. Inversely, there is a marked non-presence of highly-developed countries who have postponed their presence on the Internet (TABLE 2).

These contradictions demonstrate what fundamental aspects of the Internet's spread through society. First of all, the possibility of spreading this technology throughout every single country in the world. This is possible thanks to the existence of development platforms in institutions like universities, multinationals, ministries and embassies, etc. in developing countries. On the other hand, these circumstances also demonstrate the sluggishness of some Olympic institutions in technologically highly-developed enviroments. A lot of these institutions take too long to understand the possibilities offered by modem information technology and the need and opportunity to adapt to these changes. Some National Olympic Committees in the developed world are, in this sense, far behind some of the Olympic Committees in developing countries.

The Internet and the Super-Abundance of Information
Even though this is the initial stage of its implementation, the Internet already poses a serious problem: a superabundance of information.

The world-wide dimension of the network is one of the major causes of such super-abundance. Never before have we had the opportunity of accessing information supplied by "local" sources spread out all over the world. This super-abundance is also a "super-redundancy", a fact the Internet offers a great deal of information redundancy. A lot of information is duplicated and very little original information is produced. At most there is some adaptation of the same information to the marketing needs of each source.

So, for example, information about Olympic history that we can find in several different Olympic Web sites is based on the same bibliographical sources with no original research. The same topics - and even the same mistakes - are repeated. These circumstances produce an enormous amount of redundant, non-selective information which might overwhelm Internet users. Some users may feel as though they we "well-informed" when, in reality, the information they we handling is of a very low quality. For example, it is possible to find hundreds of thousands of sources and references concerning the item "Olympics" yet it is very hard to discern which ones are the most reliable or original.

One of the most important instruments that can be used for efficient browsing is called "Search Engines", like Infoseek, Lycos, Yahoo!, Webcrawler, Altavista and Hotbot, to name just a few.

These constantly-improving searchers allow Internet users to locate items being searched in millions of Wet, sites.

In the case of a search for Olympism, the following 14 major items can be considered:

  • Olympic
  • Olympics
  • Olympism
  • Olympic Games
  • Olympic Education
  • Olympic Documentation
  • Olympic Studies
  • Olympic Research
  • Olympic Museum
  • Olympic and Research
  • Olympic and Documentation
  • Olympic and Studies
  • Olympic and Games
  • Olympic and Museum

So, for example, in March1997 using the item "Olympics", three of the searchers (Altavista, Hotbot and Infoseek) threw up a total of 383,240, 229,358 and 112,914 documents or Internet pages (HTML), respectively (TABLE 5).

The results of the search usually appear in groups of 10 per Internet page. So, the search for subsequent documents (11 to 20, 21 to 30, etc.) must be done by using page forward. This takes an awful lot of time which varies greatly depending on the each user's equipment, the time and the availability of each telecommunications network. But, in general, with the conditions provided by the communications system we used, moving between 4 Internet pages (HTML), that is locating the index for the first 40 documents, took between 10 and 20 minutes.

Subsequent research gave us a command of the places where some Olympic Web sites we considered to be of interest could be located: International Olympic Committee, Olympic Museum Lausanne, organizing committees for Atlanta'96, Nagano'98 and Sydney'2000, and our own Olympic Studies Center in Barcelona's Web site (TABLE 6 y 7).

From this research it was deduced that the main Web sites do not automatically appear first among the Webs selected by the searchers. See, for example, the case of the search for the item "Olympics" the IOC's Web site. This Web does not appear until position number 56 in the Altavista searcher and 71 in Hotbot. To reach that Web site, the user might spend around half an hour of his/her telephone connection. (TABLE 7).

If we compare the results of the research we did on March 1997 to the research done one month later (April 1997) (TABLE 5), we find, unlike what would normally be expected, that the total number of documents was smaller. When using the item "Olympics", Altavista went from 383,240 matches down to 100,000; Hotbot from 229,358 to 191,350 and Infoseek from 112,914 to 105,763. Although smaller, the figures were still extremely high.

The drop in numbers may not be due to a reduction in the information supply on the Internet but rather to greater sophistication of the search systems which may avoid many duplications.

The searches done by item association and for smaller semantic fields were more precise. This is the case for "Olympic Studies", as the Olympic Museum Lausanne and the Olympic Studies Center in Barcelona appear among the first 10, that is in the first index page offered by Altavista, one of our searchers (TABLE 6).

There is no doubt about the fact that in years to come the search instruments on the Internet will improve. However, with the information already available to us, we can assert the idea that it will be essential to create several new information and documentation strategies.

On the hand, new strategies will be required by "those who want to be located". These should adapt their Web sites to Search Engine strategies, adopting the parameters necessary to be located among the first links.

On the other hand, new strategies will be required by "the searchers". These will need new forms of mediation between the multiplication of sources and their information needs.

The five strategies will be of the greatest importance for future documentation centers.

The Olympic Documentation Highway Experience
A documentation center's mission no longer consists solely of the traditional task of providing lists and lending documents. Now its mission is to select these sources of information and provide the links between them. A documentation center's basic future function is to get to the core - to remove the padding - and ensure that Olympic information searchers do not get bogged down by the thousands of useless sources before reaching quality information.

For example, a researcher interested in "Olympism" using the Hotbot search engine will not link up with the organizing committee for the Sydney Olympics until reaching document number 128; or the researcher interested in "Olympic Education" using Altavista will not find the International Olympic Committee until reaching document number 31 (TABLE 6). These difficulties must be overcome by specialist documentation services which provide effective, efficient browsing.

The Olympic Documentation Highway aims to respond to this challenge. It was created in 1996 by the Olympic and Sport Studies Center which carries out a routine search for Olympic links on a daily basis. The parameters used are both documentary and academic (TABLE 8). It rounds this task off by keeping a specialist directory, the International Directory of Olympic Research and Documentation, which can also be accessed via the Olympic Documentation Highway on the Internet8.

The Internet and the Universality of the Olympic Movement
All analysts assert that information technologies - and the Internet in particular - should particularly benefit institutions, groups and movements which deploy their activities on a world-wide scale. This is the case for the International Olympic Movement, whose representation is deployed by 197 National Olympic Committees. It is an exceptional case of international representation which is even greater than that of the United Nations.

If we add the itinerant character of the Olympic Games (today in Atlanta, yesterday in Barcelona and tomorrow in Nagano) to the condition of universality and its educational vocation, we are faced with a truly exceptional potential use of new information technology in the contemporary world.

The potential capacity of new information technology for the Olympic Movement may be held back by too major barriers which are very different in nature and which should be carefully analyzed: world imbalances concerning the implementation of information technology and resistance to communications change put up by several Olympic protagonists.

With regard to the latter, we must insist on the need to adapt to new means of on-line communication and particularly on the need to prevent the apprehension still aroused by universal, free access to information that is peculiar to new trends on the internet. In this sense, it seems appropriate to ask oneself what Coubertin - who only had elementary information techniques available to him - would have done if he had had the Internet available.

Coubertin would probably have known how to make the most of the huge dissemination potential that the new technologies have as instruments of information and involvement of every member of the Olympic family, as well as an educational tool.

On the first issue concerning the imbalance in modem communication on a world-wide scale, we should start by asserting the existence of such an imbalance and, with the same strength of conviction, assert the possibilities of using these technologies for certain specific ends, so long as the corresponding mechanisms of planning and solidarity mediate. In other words,: the Olympic Movement can benefit from the use of new information technologies in an international context marked by major economic and technological imbalance if it is capable of organizing its own policy of technological solidarity.

The Olympic information policy is faced with a new and important challenge: that of providing all National Olympic Committees with the necessary instruments and knowledge to gain access to new information technologies.

These measures would allow a truly historic step forward to be taken in Olympic information because nowadays, despite what many protagonists may assume, the Internet is much more viable than old-fashioned printed documents. Or is it easier to send magazines, leaflets and information to the least developed places on Earth? What is the current state of Olympic or sports libraries in developing countries with old information technology?

Internet now offers a huge advantage which should be made the most of: the communications cost for data transmission at long distance is the same as for local communications. Connection to Olympic Web sites located anywhere in the world is easy and cheap as a local telephone call. This is an opportunity which must not be missed by world-wide institutions' (e.g. the Olympic Movement) information policies.

In no way do we assert that the world's major economic, organizational and technological imbalances can be redressed by the Internet. However, what we do indeed assert is that a solidarity policy and a will to work against inequality my find that the Internet is a useful tool in reaching those objectives, or even that the Internet constitutes a more useful tool than previous or earlier communications technology.

But, for that to happen, Olympic institutions need to be asked - and who better than Olympic Solidarity - to set up educational assistance programs for the NOCs in minimally developed technological environments so that they enter the new dimension of electronic information. In addition, learning about new technologies may have several beneficial effects. Every country needs telecomunications and computer experts. In some countries this pioneering task may fall to the men and women of the Olympic Movement. Thus, the objectives would be met at the same time: strengthening the involvement of everyone in the Olympic Movement and promoting the development of new information technologies in developing countries.

But there is yet another, final virtue of new information technologies and the Internet which should be made the most of by the Olympic Movement in the coming years: its ability to carry out educational tasks. Pierre de Coubertin's main goal with the restoration of the Olympic Games was not simply to create a world-wide movement. It was to create an educational movement through sport, too. With these new technologies, the Olympic Movement now has an instrument that is beyond Coubertin's wildest dreams.

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8. See the document International Directory of Olympic Research and Documentation, prepared for the IASI 10th Scientific Congress or find at http://blues.uab.es/olympic.studies

Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes.
Año 3, Nº 10. Buenos Aires. Mayo 1998