Olympics Ideas Two: Beyond sports

Summary: Going a little and much further than talking about running, jumping and swimming.

My first article on this topic, Olympics Ideas One: Teaching English For and Through Sport, was about teaching sports vocabulary and using the topic of sport to teach other language such as common grammar points. This article go far beyond that to see how we can bring in topics that are related to the Olympics but in ways that have little do with running, swimming and jumping. These include:

 Architecture, construction and town planning

 Crime and security

 Design

 Equal opportunities

 Ecology

 Host cities

 Marketing

 Media

 Nations taking part

 Nationality and nationalism

 Politics

There must be many more, and in fact you could probably link any topic in your textbook to the Olympics if you wanted to. Hopefully these few ideas for the things in the list above should help illustrate some ways in which this can be done.

Architecture, construction and town planning

You can look at architecture of stadia, Olympic village accommodation, transport hubs built for the games etc. This can be done by students presenting real ones as if they are their own designs, improving on real designs, making their own designs, or ranking designs. You can also find texts with facts and opinions on all these topics, e.g. ones looking at the long term effects of the Olympics on cities, e.g. how liveable Olympic villages turned out to be and how useable Olympic stadia were after the games (and often how derelict they are now).

Crime and security

In the sports arena there is illegal betting, crowd control, fighting between competitors and spectators, and performance-enhancing drugs. More relevant for most people are things outside the arena such as protests that get out of control, criminals targeting visitors, and terrorist threats. Students can discuss the size of the threat, come up with their own solutions or look at real reactions and overreactions of the police and other authorities.


Olympics logos and characters are great topics as they are almost universally terrible and seem to get worse and worse, and there are plenty of reactions to them available online that students can read or listen to before giving their own opinions.

Equal opportunities

Perhaps the most controversial topic of the London 2012 games is whether countries that don’t allow women to compete equally should be allowed to take part. Other issues with sexual discrimination include less coverage for women’s events, lack of women and men competing against each other, and sports that don’t have women’s events. Students could also discuss whether the Paralympics should be more made more equal with the Olympics, whether money spent on the Paralympics could be better spent on other help for disabled people, how much the Paralympics really changes attitudes, and how wheelchair friendly etc host cities become in the long term.


However green the Olympics get, it would of course be better for the planet if everyone just stayed at home! Students could try to think of ways of making this or similar extreme reactions work, such as people competing in regional semi-finals and then in virtual finals.

Host cities

As shown by television programmes around the time of the Olympics, people seem to be happy to find out every detail about the host city however unrelated to the games, from its food to its festivals at other times of the year.


Attempts at guerrilla marketing and the over the top attempts to stop them are always interesting topics.


Relevant topics include too much coverage of sport, not enough coverage of women’s sports and the Paralympics, stirring up nationalism, demonising of unsuccessful competitors, whether the Olympics should be available on free TV, power of the TV companies to influence timing of events and host cities, and sexualisation of female athletes. Students could also analyse which Olympic stories get (the most) coverage in different media, e.g. different back and front page stories, and speculate on the reasons why.

Nations taking part

Countries being in the games can be a great opportunity to introduce places that you think the students should be more aware of, but for your selection of country not to seem too random or preachy they will need to stand out from the other approximately 200 countries, e.g. because it is their first games, because they have the smallest squad, because it is their first (chance for) a medal, or because they have an athlete who is more famous than their entire nation.

Nationality and nationalism

Perhaps the most controversial question is what the criteria should be for someone to be able to compete for a nation, e.g. whether they should be able to compete for another nation if they change nationality. Student could also debate whether coverage of the Olympics and hosting the games makes people more open to other countries or more nationalistic.


Related topics include boycotts of the games, political protests and statements by athletes, protests in the streets of the host city, and whether the games really make countries more open or not (much debated during the Beijing games).

Copyright © 2012

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

Enjoyed this article?

Please help us spread the word:

Latest from ' Teaching English'

How to teach like as a preposition Read More »