In the aftermath of violence in Tibet in spring of 2008 and at the Olympic torch relay in England and France, rising nationalistic feelings in China drew media attention, and Chinese people around the world complained about the bias and anti-Chinese racism of the Western press. Ironically, it is just this sort of international tension and nationalism that the Olympics were instituted to allay.
Pierre de Coubertin created the modern Olympic Games as more than simply a spectacle or a romanticized imitation of the glories of ancient Greece. He was an educator with a global vision, acting at a time when the world was suffering from upheavals and conflicts—and when more conflicts loomed. He saw peaceful competition as something that would give the world’s young people maturity and confidence, and thus the ability to respond to the social, political, and economic challenges of the early twentieth century. Coubertin and his supporters were also aware that friendly international contacts would reduce prejudice, increase trust, and diminish the dangers of excessive nationalism. The Olympic Charter—the rules and regulations of the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee—puts it this way: “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Pierre de Coubertin and the Birth of the Modern Olympics
Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863–1937) of France is known as the founder of the modern Olympic Games. However, even before Coubertin, people had attempted to reestablish the ancient Olympics of Greece. However, these attempts—in Greece, France, England, and the United States—failed because they lacked the internationality that has been the elixir of today’s modern Olympic Games.
Coubertin did not reintroduce the Olympic Games merely to stage an ancient sports festival but rather to offer nations of the world a chance to compete peacefully. He hoped that young people would develop a maturity that would lead to an ability to cope with social, political, and economic challenges of the early twentieth century and become responsible and democratic citizens. Coubertin and his supporters also hoped that the Olympic Games would foster “international contacts,” allowing people to represent their country and get to know people of other countries and encourage a reduction of hatred, distrust, and prejudice. Nationalism and internationalism do not, in Coubertin’s opinion, exclude each other. Coubertin believed that, properly understood, peaceful internationalism corrects a narrow-minded nationalism but also acknowledges the differences and characteristics of other nations, thus disassociating itself from superficial cosmopolitanism. By reintroducing the Olympic Games Coubertin planned to consolidate and extend interest in international competition. The Olympic Charter — the rules and regulations of the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — addresses this goal: “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair-play.”
The Olympic Games were reestablished and the IOC founded in 1894 at the Olympic Congress in Paris. Coubertin was the organizer of the congress and was supported foremost by Charles Herbert of England and William Milligan Sloane of the United States. Athens was chosen as the first host city for the rebirth of the Olympics Games in 1896.
Karl LENNARTZ and Stephan WASSONG
China is increasingly trying to weave together Western ways of thinking with Chinese values that derive from its traditional philosophies, such as Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. One expression of this comes in the three themes that the Beijing Olympics Committee chose, along with the Olympic slogan, “One World, One Dream,” to relate China’s traditional philosophies and five-thousand-year history to the ideals of the games and to the challenges of the twenty-first century. These three themes are “technological Olympics” 科技奥运, “humanistic Olympics” 人文奥运, and “green Olympics” 绿奥运.
Source: Christensen, Karen. (2008). The Olympic ideal. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 114–115. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.