Britain's cultural Olympiad
reports on the British Council contributing to peace, security and exercise
Chairman of the British Council Sir Vernon Ellis says that the 2012 Olympic Games in London will see cultural events that will link London to the world.
During a round-table in the British Council in Agouza, Cairo, Sir Vernon confirmed that the Games will witness a cultural Olympiad. "The events will be full of different events which will reflect cultural diversity. Schools, especially state schools, who are not all of British accent, will take part in these events. All participants at the Games whether athletes or visitors will see how cultural celebrations will reflect on the Games," Sir Vernon told Al-Ahram W eekly.
Sir Vernon, who was appointed chairman of the British Council in April 2010, told the Weekly that in the past two years, he had found the work in the field very inspiring for today's world. "I believe the British Council makes a real contribution to peace, security, making friends and gaining experience.
"My main focus has been trying to help the British Council to build resources. I'm very excited and feel optimistic that we can be relevant to many situations in the world and I'm also impressed with the findings of the huge change that occurred in this region."
Britain is keen on creating a legacy of the Games through a three-day conference for youth and sports which was held in Egypt in cooperation with the British Council together with the Ministry of Education, the National Sports Council, the Physical Education (PE) sector of the Supreme Council of Universities, the Egyptian Olympic and Paralympic Committees and UNICEF.
The three-day event was not just a conference for policy- makers. Schoolchildren, students, PE teachers, coaches and professors from all over the country came to Cairo to take part in the discussion. The first day was dedicated for young peo
ple, the second for practitioners and the third was for decision-makers.
During the conference, participants discussed the challenges of how to provide equal opportunities for girls and young women as well as young people with disabilities and how to adapt to limited space and facilities.
The conference also tackled the benefits of taking part in physical education and sport, and the findings of new nationwide research into young people and sport conducted by international research agency the Nielsen Company.
Emad El-Bannani, president of the National Sports Council, and James Watt, the British ambassador in Egypt, attended the third day of the conference.
"Sports plays an essential role in the life of young people," says Mark Stephens, director of the British Council in Egypt. "We are here to support young Egyptians -- those who inspired and led the changes we have all seen in Egypt over the past year and who deserve the very best from us. Help them to take part in physical education and sport to change their lives and open doors to a better future."
"Physical education and sport have many physical, social and mental benefits for both the individual and community. Having all these different partners, both Egyptian and British, at the conference represents a valuable opportunity to focus on the big question: how can we provide young people in Egypt with more opportunities to take part?" asked Ashraf Marei, chairman of the Egyptian Paralympic Committee.
The final day saw a dialogue among youths, teachers and decision-makers. A delegation of young people headed by two young Egyptian stars, the rhythmic gymnast Alia El-Khatib and boxer Hisham Yehya, plus a delegation of teachers and coaches headed by Abdel-Aziz Ghoneim, coach of boxer Ali Reda, the Olympic silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Games,
presented the recommendations of their peers and colleagues in the first two days of the conference.
A distinguished panel listened responded to the recommendations. The panel comprised Gamal El-Sherif, director general of the Physical, Martial and Scout Education Department in the Egyptian Ministry of Education, Tarek Rashed, under-secretary of the Central Department of physical performance in the National Sports Council, Ashraf Marei, chairman of the Egyptian Paralympic Committee, El-Motaz Sonbol, secretary-general of the Egyptian Olympic Committee and a representative of the PE sector in the Supreme Council of Universities.
Rashed said the first day of the conference was fruitful as several discussions were held, with the participation of speakers from the UK through meetings and workshops highlighting the experience of youth and how sport affected their lives and their community.
"The second day saw teachers, trainers and university professors who came out with a number of recommendations to be presented to the decision-makers on the third day where discussions took place on ways of implementation and possibilities of opening up prospects for cooperation with organisations and bodies working in the same area," added Rashed.
El-Bannani said the conference comes in the same context of the National Council for Sports' vision supporting the Sport is a Lifestyle theme and responding to youth being able to practice sport using the most basic tools."
Among those present on the third day were influential sports celebrities including swimming champion Rania Elwani; the 1984 Olympic silver medalist judo player, Mohamed Rashwan; and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, gold-medal winning Paralympian and member of the House of Lords, who spoke about the International Inspiration programme, the UK
government's international sports legacy programme of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games which aims to assist in the provision of high-quality and inclusive PE and sport for all young people.
Sir Vernon also attended the Grants for Artists programme recently held in Cairo. During the event, he reflected on the recent death of 74 people in a football game in Egypt, saying "it is with great sorrow that we mourn the loss of those young people who lost their lives."
The event highlighted the Grants for Artists programme and witnessed the unveiling of sculptures by British and Egyptian artists and the announcement of the appointment of a new curator-in-residence.
During his stay in Cairo, Sir Vernon also met students studying English at the British Council as well as school students taking IGCSE art qualifications from the UK as part of their secondary school programme.
The Grants for Artists programme is a new venture for the British Council, involving an open call for applications. Over 250 proposals and project ideas were received in response to the call. Grants for Artists is now supporting over 50 artistic and cultural projects in the field of digital art, animation, visual art, theatre, dance, design, literature, fashion, music and film. The programme's main aim is to help people start festivals; provide resources and infrastructure; coordinate networks; and archive, promote and present.
About the programme, Sir Vernon remarked, "It is an initiative that was developed in the post-revolutionary atmosphere that follows the extraordinary events in Egypt one year ago. It is a very clear demonstration that the British Council listens to its contacts and partners and that it is able to respond to a fast-changing situation."