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Coubertin, Olympism and social development

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Coubertin, Olympism and social development

Dr. Dikaia Chatziefstathiou reflects on how Pierre de Coubertin tried to keep the Olympic movement together during and after the social, economic and political crisis caused by World War I

Olympics and World War I

By the summer of 1914, many people were expecting with enthusiasm the Olympic Games of the Sixth Olympiad in Berlin, but economic and political conflicts, nationalism, and many crises eventually led to the outbreak of the Great War (1914-1918).

The emergence of socialist and communist sport movements

In this heavy atmosphere of global political and economic disorder, socialist and communist sport movements emerged and staged their independent sport events (such as the Worker Olympics, the Spartakiads, and the Women’s Olympics). They challenged the authority of the IOC and demanded reform and change in the Olympic movement.

"Popular Olympism"
In response, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, promoted the notion of ‘Popular Olympism’. Thus he underlined the existence of the Olympic Games as a product of popular culture that would develop a sense of collectiveness among the individuals of modern society and would increase the chances for social peace and unity in the turbulent years that followed the end of the First World War.

Widening the reach of the Movement
Evidence of paternalism in Coubertin’s speeches and writings suggests that his ‘popularisation’ of Olympism was part of his discursive strategies to downplay any resistance and prolong the longevity of the movement rather than an honest effort towards true democratisation. Nevertheless, Coubertin’s emphasis on “all people from all classes” widened the reach of the movement and, arguably, this has provided evidence that the Olympic Movement responded well to external pressures and social matters.

Dr. Dikaia Chatziefstathiou is a Reader in Olympic Studies & the Social Analysis of Sport at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK. She is the inaugural winner of the "Coubertin Prize" awarded by the International Olympic Committee and the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee in 2008. She is the author of the book "Discourses of Olympism: From the Sorbonne 1894 to London 2012" published by Palgrave in 2012 (co-authored with Professor Ian Henry).

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Dikaia Chatziefstathiou

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 08:00