Chapter I: History & Philosophy

Excerpt from Chapter


“We begin our exploration of the Olympics by examining its origins, which take us back some 2,500 years to Ancient Greece.

The inspiration for the Modern Games begins here and many of the symbols and practices that are used today have their roots within this period. As such, we will consider some of the values and rituals of the Ancient Olympic Games, which chart a course from 776BC to 1894AD and the circumstances that led to the staging of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. An overview of their history reveals why the Olympic Games must be treated as just one part of what is described as the Olympic Movement, the work of which extends far beyond Olympic sports competitions, medal rankings or doping issues. Indeed, the work of the movement encompasses such areas as international diplomacy, peace advocacy and developing strategies and programmes to address a range of social concerns, such as gender equality in sport. Understanding the relationship between the Ancient and Modern Games, provides an insight into the relationship between the Olympics and today’s global society. In turn, this insight helps to explain why the Olympic Games have become the most important mega-event of all time.

Within this introductory this chapter, we discuss critical elements of Olympic history. The Ancient Games provide an entry point to understanding the key Olympic symbols & rituals and their reinterpretation and revival by the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, in the late 19th Century. We also consider the central structures of the modern Olympics, notably the Olympic Family and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as its leading organisation, to shed light on key challenges and opportunities for the Games in present times. Next, we outline the values of modern sport, notably its emphasis on attaining world records and quantification, part of a broader process with its routes in Enlightenment positivism with its desire to measure the world around us. We also acknowledge the growth of the other Games which shape modern sports today and keep introducing new questions and challenges to the Olympic movement from a cultural and social perspective, the Paralympic Games. Finally, we acknowledge the contribution made by the core stakeholders in the Olympic Games, the athletes.”