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How the Olympics has evolved into something it was never intended to be

We are exactly eight months away from the biggest sporting event in the world returning to our screens. On July 26th, all eyes will turn to Paris as the latest chapter of the Olympic Games saga gets underway. Nations from all over the world will compete in a multitude of events to showcase their supremacy over one another.

The beauty of the Olympics is that the diversity of its events allows each country to highlight its athletic strengths. For example, over the past decade and a half, we have seen Jamaica produce some of the greatest sprinters on the planet. Ethiopia has showcased its dominance in long-distance running over a 25-year period. Only Mo Farah has been able to prevent an Ethiopian from winning the men’s 10,000m race since 1996.

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All of this culminates in a final standing, known to us as the medal table. It is arguably the thing that is on our screen the most throughout the games, constantly being updated, reminding us which nation has the most gold, silver, and bronze medals. It is something that has become part of the furniture.

Yet it is the last thing that Pierre de Coubertin ever wanted.

For those of you unaware of who the Frenchman is and his significance in this story, he is the founding father of the modern Olympic Games. The co-founder of the International Olympic Committee, it was largely down to his vision that we saw the first Olympics of its kind in 1896.

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Coubertin was fascinated by social values and, in an attempt to learn more about how these were woven into society, he visited an array of schools in England. What he found was that sport was an integral part of the British education system. Not only that, but it was having a positive impact on the development of students. Edward Burgo noted in the Sports Journal:

“Competition within the sport created an opportunity for students to develop a personal style in the growth and learning process.

“Coubertin was able to see first-hand the impact that sports and physical education have on society.”

During his visits, the historian met with William Penny Brookes. In Brookes, the Frenchman had found someone who shared similar ideas and philosophies. The British educator spoke to his counterpart at length about his desire to create an international sporting event, having already proposed a national version in 1866.

When Coubertin received support for the idea of an Olympic Games in 1894, it was done so under an ideology that mirrored the values he had witnessed during his time in England. The athletes and their talent were to be championed.

This idea even found its way into the official Olympic Charter, which is still used today. Chapter 1, rule 6 states: “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.”

As the Olympics evolved, it seems as though this rule has either been overlooked or completely ignored.

The introduction of podiums and national anthems in 1928. The 1936 Games being used by the Nazis as a means of propaganda to showcase their superiority. Opening ceremonies where athletes are paraded around in one large group, draped in the same colours as others who were born in the same part of the world.

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Think back to earlier.  We spoke about the dominance of Ethiopian athletes in the 10,000m race. Without researching them, can you name all of these Olympians? The likelihood is that you can’t. Aside from Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, can you name any of the seven sprinters who won medals for Jamaica during London 2012? Maybe one or two, but not all.

The Olympics were created in the vision of showcasing the individuals, not their backgrounds. Sure, in some cases the talent of a person is so extraordinary that they are more than just a representative. However, for the most part, this isn’t the case.

Instead, the majority of competitors are boxed into the category of being a servant who is trying to win something for their country. What was designed to be a place where the whole world can watch in awe at amazing feats, the Olympics has transitioned into a marketing tool. It has become as much about bragging rights as it is about the incredible athletes that allow their countries to have it.


  • Callum Bishop

    Callum is a sports journalist who boasts a variety of experience in producing written and video content. If it involves kicking, throwing or hitting a ball, best believe that Callum is watching and covering it. Despite popular belief, he would never have made it pro regardless of any knee injuries. However, he absolutely lives off the time he nutmegged a Premier League player during five aside.