The Celebration of human diversity

From the beginning to the end of his forty-year Olympic journey, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was uncompromising in his demands that the modern Olympic Games be open to all nations and all peoples.

In his retirement speech as a President in Prague in 1925, as he relinquished control of the IOC, he left his colleagues with an adamant reminder that the Games were universal and therefore completely inclusive: "Is there any need to recall that the Games are not the property of any country or of any particular race, and that they cannot be monopolised by any group whatsoever? They are global. All people must be allowed in, without debate…”

That statement served as an appropriate bookend to the universal ethic he established at the founding of the Games in Paris in June of 1894. In the second edition of the Olympic Bulletin that year, he penned an article entitled Chronique, in which he made it clear that the rotation of the Games from city to city, nation to nation, was always intended to be a celebration of human diversity and the cultures or our world. “The genius of each people, its manner of holding the festivals and of engaging in physical exercise,” he wrote, “is what will give the modern Olympic Games their true character, and perhaps may make them superior to their ancient predecessors. It is obvious that Games held in Rome will not resemble in the slightest those that may be held in London or Stockholm.”

The Baron’s call for universalism extended to the diversity of sports on the Olympic programme as well. “From the very beginning,” he wrote in his 1910 essay, All Sports, “it was understood that the modern Games would include all forms of exercise practised throughout the world today, to the greatest extent possible… It is impossible to overemphasise the fact that the word ‘Olympic’ cannot and should not be used except for gatherings of a variety of sports… What is Olympic is universal.”

In giving visual expression to the idea of universalism, the Baron designed the Olympic rings in 1913. As he described their meaning in his essay, The Emblem and The Flag of 1914, he claimed all space and time for the Olympic Movement:

“Olympism did not reappear within the context of modern civilisation in order to play a local or temporary role. The mission entrusted to it is universal and timeless. It is ambitious. It requires all space and all time.”

As new host cities and countries welcome the world to the Games, the Games in turn elevate new cultures and customs before the world, in essence, exposing the full diversity of humanity to everyone, providing another unique expression of Coubertin’s universalism.  

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