The Olympic Movement recently celebrated its 115th anniversary. The International Olympic Committee was established on 23 June 1894, at a meeting convened at the Sorbonne, Paris, France. The Movement has been through many different circumstances, including having to cancel the Olympic Games during the years of the world wars in the 20th century, and today remains the strongest symbol of the positive values associated with sport in the world.
The International Olympic Movement was conceived by a number of individuals who have come to be seen as the Founding Fathers. The one individual most known to the world in relation to the origins of the Olympic Movement was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French philanthropist. The history of sport does however reveal that even before de Coubertin launched his own bid for the Modern Olympics to be established, there were initiatives elsewhere, most notably in Greece, home to the Olympic Games of Antiquity, where notable individuals were clamouring for the return of the Olympics.
The ancient Olympics was recorded in history as an almost inevitable link with Greek Mythology. The Games were as much ceremony as it was competition. Legend has it that the ancient Olympics were seen as a time for fierce yet friendly competition between rivals, many of who were involved in full war. There was supposed to be a truce which was ordered for the duration of the Games so that everyone would become involved in making the quadrennial event a resounding success.
There were many legends built around the ancient Olympics. Whatever about the legends the reality is that Greeks identified themselves with the Olympic Games and it was perceived as an integral component of Greek culture. This is everywhere evident in Greece even today.
Legend also claims that the competitions at the ancient Olympics did not involve female competitors and that women were not allowed to witness the events because the men were competing naked.
There was also the matter of the status of the participants since it was argued that at the time of the ancient Olympics there was a clear separation of the perceived intellectuals and the ‘lesser mortals’ of brawn.
Brooks, the founder of the Much Wenlock Games in England, also played an important role in the revival of the Olympics. He eventually transformed his sporting event into Olympics. Later, de Coubertin visited Brooks, witnessed an edition of his Olympics and discussed his ideas about the revival of the Games in the modern era.
The historical records reflect that initially de Coubertin had invited a number of individuals from different countries to join him at the Sorbonne to discuss the discuss athletics in the pure sense of track and field athletics. Somehow, the discussions eventually turned in the direction of the establishment of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the commencement of planning for the re-establishment of the Olympic Games.
The Greek, Demetrius Vikelas, was elected the first President of the IOC and the first edition of the modern Olympic Games was set for 1896.
The IOC agreed that the host city would also seek to convene a World’s Fair, to accompany the Games.
The modern Olympics have been held consistently since 1896. With time and expenses too heavy to carry, host cities have dropped the World’s Fair from the quadrennial event. In its place, the IOC has been encouraging the hosting of Olympic Cultural Exhibitions. These have become quite popular and have facilitated the spread of the Olympic ideals across the world.
The Modern Olympic Games began as a Summer event for men only held every four years. The shift was later made to incorporate women in sporting events consistent with the changes taking place in global society relative to the opening up of opportunities to women.
Later still, the Olympic Movement introduced Winter Olympics, also held in a four-year cycle, and, from the very beginning, involving competitions for men and women.
The modern Olympics has emerged as the world’s most sensational sporting spectacle.
Over the years there were two notable cases of athletes who would have been banned for involvement in professional activities – Thorpe and Owens. Effective 1998 the IOC decided to adopt a change of policy and invited professionals to the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Samaranch, then IOC President, was insistent that the Olympic Games must feature the very best athletes in the world. He did however seek to ensure that no athlete would receive monetary compensation for his/her participation in the Olympics.
But the modern Olympics and the introduction of professionals have served to heighten the interest on the part of athletes to succeed and so we have witnessed the seemingly uncontrollable influx of banned substances by athletes with the support of their handlers.
The entire Olympic Movement has been threatened by the number of athletes who have been suspected of drug use for several years only to be have them confess later on and the IOC forced to ask for the return of their medals.
Further cause for concern emerged with the Salt Lake City scandal which rocked the Olympic Movement to its foundations. It was discovered that several top-ranking IOC officials had been involved in the acceptance of bribes of one sort or another in exchange for their vote in favour of Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics of 2002. Interestingly the IOC was unable to determine just how far back such practices were taking place within its own hallowed halls.
A hastily put together Commission involving some ‘big’ names from around the world addressed the scandal and its recommendations led to a restructuring of sorts of the IOC. Athletes and NOCs now have some say in the organisation but it still remains essentially eclectic, dominated by the rich and famous and the leadership almost indistinguishable from some heads of state around the world.
The fight against drugs
Shamed by the number of Olympians who have tested positive for banned substances and the revelations of athletes and officials from the former Soviet Bloc countries, the IOC has found it necessary to expend increasing resources in leading the fight against the use of drugs in Olympic Sport.
One would have thought that there would have been a certain eagerness among international sporting federations (IF) to join in this struggle but this was not the case. Many wonder what were the critical factors impacting Cycling (UCI) and Football (FIFA) such that they were particularly tardy in coming on board with the IOC in the development of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) as the main vehicle in the fight against drugs in sport.
It is an indictment on humanity that the IOC has to take valued resources that should otherwise have been diverted towards development of sport around the world to the fight against the use of illegal substances by athletes to gain a competitive edge on the field of play. But such is the reality.
It is also an indictment on humanity that today we could have protagonists advocating an end to the drug testing of athletes and instead allow them to freely access whatever they want, bear the consequences of their action while in the process showing the capacity of man to attain new heights in the world of sport, ever extending the limits of human physical achievement.
WADA claims to be a success story. However, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that given the unparalleled growth of remuneration for outstanding sports personalities in today’s world, there are always scientists willing to experiment in the development of newer, more powerful substances that enhance performance.
From the earliest days the modern Olympic Movement advocated a very special place for positive values associated with the practice of sport. The concept of Olympism is intended to capture these important values.
Athletes are expected to play fair at all times and to engage in friendly competition for the sheer glory of sport. We promote discipline and camaraderie in sport and suggest that involvement would inevitably lead to a healthy lifestyle.
The Olympic Movement has sought to promote peace and in the recent past have linked with the Games of antiquity by having a joint agreement between the IOC and the United Nations for an Olympic Truce.
Unfortunately, the modern Olympics has never realised the ideals of the Olympic Truce. None of the signatories to the UN seem anxious to invoke the Olympic Truce during the period of the Olympics. Only the host country pays any attention to is and this, only for the period of the Games.
The performance of some Olympians is such that the positive values seem never to have impacted them, leaving decidedly poor examples for the youths to emulate.
The Olympic Movement is not perfect but at least it has retained some noble ideals after which we should strive. Life would be much better for all of us if we work towards adherence to the positive values inherent in the concept of Olympism.
There is a responsibility placed on society itself to promote sport as a means of improving the human condition through physical activity, friendly competition and the inculcation of positive values for the betterment of all.