The Olympic Games
The modern Olympic Games began in the late-nineteenth century as a revival of the ancient Greek Olympics. Now just over one hundred years old, the modern Olympic movement is the biggest and most important sports movement in the world. In fact, many people believe the Olympic Games to be the most important cultural event of any kind in the world.
The modern Olympic Games were the brainchild of Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin. De Coubertin’s dream for an international sports event and cultural movement became a reality in 1894 at the International Athletic Congress in Paris. After the Games were constituted in 1894, the first Olympic Games was held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, in recognition of the ancient Greek Olympic Games.
The original purpose of the Olympic Games in de Coubertin’s mind was to celebrate and strengthen the physical, mental, and cultural qualities of humanity. The Games would blend sport with culture, tradition, and education. The philosophy of Olympism is based on the joy of physical and mental effort and the respect for universal ethical principles. De Coubertin envisioned creating a more noble and sympathetic humanity through the Olympic movement.
The sports events themselves de Coubertin modeled after the English public school sport system. He saw in upper-class English boys’ sport the qualities of camaraderie, nobility, and honesty. Most importantly, however, was adherence to the rules of sport, in particular the rule that stated sport ought to be amateur in nature. De Coubertin believed participants should never participate in sport for the purpose of making money. To do so would contradict the underlying philosophy of sport. Breaking the amateur rule in de Coubertin’s time was as serious a violation as taking drugs to enhance performance is in today’s world of sport.
Over time, the Olympics grew to be the largest international festival of any kind. Today, debates exist as to the degree to which the modern Games adhere to de Coubertin’s original intent. On the one hand, Olympic sport is truly international in nature, as de Coubertin would have wanted it. On the other hand, it is doubtful that de Coubertin would have admired the existence of politics, commercialism, and drug use in sport. The Olympics have become truly international, but perhaps at a price.
There is little question that the Olympic Games hold out the possibility for fulfilling de Coubertin’s original goal of sport contributing to a better, more peaceful, and understanding world.