Antwerp 1920: a symbol of peace, unity and strength

16 Dec 2020
Antwerp 1920 Legacy

The coming together of 2,626 athletes, representing 29 nations, in Antwerp for the Olympic Games – the first to be organised after World War I – stood and still stands as a message of peace, unity and strength. The emergence of several enduring Olympic symbols, expressing a strong message of hope, clearly fits with this sentiment.

1920 / International Olympic Committee (IOC) - All rights reserved | The delegations gathered in the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony.

Antwerp 1920 marked the debut of three symbols of unity, fair play and peace – the raising of the Olympic flag at the Games, the taking of the Olympic oath by an athlete, and the release of white doves. The first two of these symbols have featured at every Olympic Games since.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin designed the Olympic flag in 1913. It is simple but striking, with the five coloured rings sitting on a white, borderless background. It had been flown in Paris in 1914 to mark the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s 20th anniversary. Its appearance at Antwerp 1920 was the first time it had been seen at an edition of the Olympic Games.

The symbolism of the Olympic flag, representing the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes worldwide, is still just as strong today. It carries the message that “standing in solidarity, united under the same flag”, we can work together towards the same goal: helping to build a better world through sport.

Similarly, Belgian athlete Victor Boin started a lasting tradition in Antwerp, as he became the first Olympian to read out an oath during the opening ceremony on behalf of all the athletes competing at the Games, committing to “respect and abide by the rules” in the “true spirit of sportsmanship”. The Olympic oath has been taken by a representative of the host team at every Olympic Games since.

Doves were released by soldiers during the Antwerp 1920 Opening Ceremony. The birds of peace represented everything the Games stood for, and the gesture was repeated during every opening ceremony up to 1988. Since then, the doves have been represented symbolically at each edition of the Games.

Use of existing venues

At the Olympic Games Antwerp 1920, 19 sports competition venues were used, three of which were purpose built for the event. Many of the existing venues underwent upgrades, but few still offer high-end sports facilities.

Antwerp’s Beerschot Stadium was transformed into a venue ready to host nine sports on the Olympic programme. Now home to local football club FC Beerschot, the stadium still serves the community but, after the running track was removed, the grandstands separated and the capacity significantly reduced, it bears little resemblance to the Olympisch Stadion from a century ago.


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