Launch on www.olympic.org of Olympic Congress series
With the virtual Olympic Congress completed www.olympic.org launches today its Olympic Congress series. From now on till end of September each week one story linked to the Olympic Congress will be placed on the homepage of olympic.org. The first part of this series includes stories for each one of the previous congresses. As from June each week one of the themes or sub-themes of the Congress will be highlighted accompanied with a short video illustrating activities already carried out in this field. Today’s story looks back on the first Congresses and how de Coubertin defined them.
‘From the past, we learn for the future’
For many years following its inauguration in Paris in 1894 the Olympic Congress, together with the Olympic Games, was the most important landmark in modern Olympic history. The Congresses became the platform of encounter for the three pillars of the Olympic Movement: IOC, NOCs and IFs. There was a gap of more than 40 years between the ninth Congress in Berlin and the next one in Bulgaria in 1973 but Olympic Congresses have always had a significant impact on the way the Olympic Movement functions. They have served as punctuation marks in the history of Olympism.
De Coubertin’s eight congresses
Eight of the 12 Olympic Congresses to have taken place to date were planned and carried out by Pierre de Coubertin and their content was closely linked to his philosophical idea of modern Olympism, which meant a harmonious unity of body and mind. The Olympic Congresses were designed as intellectual guidance and justification and Coubertin used them to unite modern sport, science and the arts. They showed that Coubertin attributed more than just sport to his Olympic ideal.
High level speakers
The Congresses ran at irregular intervals until 1930 with themes revolving around health and education, and the early years were notable for the important personalities recruited as speakers from Coubertin’s large circle of acquaintances. In 1897 the French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot and Father Didon, a well known Dominican preacher and writer, both spoke in Le Havre. In 1905 the writer Marcel Prévost gave an opening lecture and for the special lecture of the Lausanne Congress in 1913 Coubertin not only had the support of the then well-known Italian historian G Ferrero but he also secured a contribution by the former American president Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s athletic autobiography had been exclusively written for the occasion.
The venues where the Congresses took place were also carefully selected by Coubertin, who deliberately chose sites of intellectual institutions to impress the scholarly circles which did not have any connection to sport. The Congresses of 1894 and 1914 were held at the Sorbonne, and the Advisory Conference in 1906 was opened at the Comédie Française. In 1905 they met in the building of the Academy of Sciences in Brussels and in 1913 in the Senate Hall of Lausanne University.
Attractive social programs
As befits such illustrious names and places, Coubertin always made sure the social programme of the Congresses complemented the busy day-time agenda. In 1905, to impress both the participants and the inhabitants of Le Havre (which happened to include the French president in his summer residence) the start of the Congress was marked, at a personal cost of over 1,000 francs to Coubertin, by a night-time sports demonstration in the central Gambetta Square, illuminated by Chinese lanterns. And in Berlin in 1930, the first Congress after Coubertin’s retirement, German president von Hindenburg threw a reception for all the delegates.
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