Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – On November 25, 1892, the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, learned the hard way that participation really matters.
The day was meticulously planned, and after years of research, the 29-year-old Baron announced his idea to revive the Olympic Games in ancient Greece in the modern era.
Coubertin chose the old Sorbonne University in Paris and the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the French Athletics Federation to deliver his speech. It was a great site for a big idea, which is a sports competition that brings nations together to learn from each other in order to promote internationalism and world peace.
The speech failed.
The audience “was not passive, but neither was there support from him,” says David Wallisinsky, author and founding member of the International Society of Olympic Historians.
“He gave a good speech in front of the wrong audience, an audience that wasn’t sympathetic or open enough,” Waleshinsky continues.
“Coubertin knew it didn’t work, but he was persistent,” Walchinsky adds. “He realized that perfection was not enough. He had to go to the nitty-gritty and get the work done.”
The letter’s veneration, with the original 14-page manuscript valued at $8.8 million in 2019 to become the most valuable sporting memorabilia ever sold at auction, is evidence of what came next.
Stephan Wassong, an expert on Coubertin’s life and head of the Institute for Sport History at the German Sports University in Cologne, explains that in 1892, France was not taking organized sport seriously.
Physical activity and organized sports were part of the military program but not the school curriculum, unlike the United States and Britain.
Coubertin, a staunch advocate of the educational value of sport, believed that it was “good for the mind” and that “mind and body can work together, and both help each other,” Wasong explains.
Coubertin traveled to England, where sports were already part of the daily lives of students in boarding schools, and where local events such as the Wenlock Olympic Games, founded in 1850, brought together competitors across a number of disciplines.
But it was where sport could align with his other passions that gave Coubertin’s idea an edge.
His writings detail the “Awakening” at the World’s Fair of 1878, in which he became involved in the world peace movement, which like many others, was centered in Paris at the time.
After watching Englishman Hodgson Pratt propose an international student exchange to promote tolerance, during the 1891 World Peace Conference in Rome, “Coubertin adopted this idea and linked it to sport,” Wasong says.
“This was not a common concept,” Waleschinsky says, especially among leaders in the colonial era and the competition between the imperial ambitions of European nations.
However, Coubertin was a believer in his idea.
And when the French athletics federation’s fifth anniversary came at the Sorbonne, the speech highlighted the popular revival of all things Greek, and used the reputation of the ancient Olympics to support his idea.
Coubertin praised the progress of sport from Germany to Sweden, and from Britain to the United States, lamented France’s slow start, and called the sport “the free trade of the future.”
Sport was placed on the same footing as the scientific and engineering innovations of the time, and Coubertin said: “It is clear that the telegraph, railways, telephone, passionate research in science, conferences and exhibitions have done more than any diplomatic treaty or agreement.”
“Well, I hope athletics can do more,” Coubertin added. “Those who have seen 30,000 people running in the rain for a football match won’t think I’m exaggerating.”
Wasong says the speech “clearly laid down the educational foundations of the Olympic idea, and its mission to build a better world through sport.”
But although his lofty rhetoric fell on deaf ears that night, Coubertin had the will and resources, and campaigned across Europe for the modern Olympics.
Two years later he returned to the old Sorbonne, and in the same room, the plans for the first games were formalized. Finally, his message was heard.
In 1896, the Olympic Games were reborn in Athens, Greece.
Coubertin did not initially believe that women should participate in the Games (women first competed in 1900), and in an upper-class mentality, he held views that were “at best harmonious, and at worst, actually racist” for some countries, according to Wallichinsky. .
Coubertin said the Olympic movement “needs to constantly modernize and adapt to the prevailing spirit of the times,” Wasong said. So, while the movement was thanks to Coubertin, some of the views he espoused should, by his own admission, be left in the past with pleasure and separated from the games.
In 1896, 12 nations competed. As for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, invitations have been sent out to more than 200 countries and territories to participate. Today, the Olympic Games are distinguished by their size, diversity, and degree of athletic prowess.
“We’re going to have 11,000 or so athletes in Tokyo, and the vast majority, 80% or more, will have absolutely no chance of winning a medal, and they know that…but most of them are there to set a personal record, or to set a record,” Walichinski says. country, or to do the best they can.”
“I think de Coubertin would have loved it,” he adds.
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