Father of Modern Olympics – Mysoginist?

Day 47 of Colourisation Project – June 23

RECAP: The challenge is to keep within the lines. No, really, the challenge is to publish daily a photo that has some significance around the day of publication. It could be someone’s birthday or an important historical event.

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On this day June 23 1894, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded at the Sorbonne in Paris, at the initiative of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Considered the “father” of the modern Olympic Games, he was IOC President from 1896 to 1925.

Pierre De Coubertin

Photo/IOC Olympic Museum – Pierre De Coubertin 1904 – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Born in 1863 into a French aristocratic family, de Coubertin was an academic specialising in education and history; focusing in particular on physical education and the role of sport in schools. A believer that “organised sport could create moral and social strength,” and better prepare and equip young men for battle in wars, de Coubertin advocated for inclusion of physical education in the curriculum of French schools.  

He had long held an idealised vision of the ancient Olympic Games held in Olympia Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. This inspired de Coubertin to work towards reviving the spirit of the Greek Olympic Games with the creation a modern Olympic Games. After much politicking between countries (what’s new?) his vision was realised in 1896 when the first Summer Olympic Games were held in Athens…and the rest is history.

Whilst Pierre de Coubertin is often celebrated and lauded for his work in reviving the Spirit of the Greek Games for the modern world, what is often overlooked are his views on the role of women and their place in sport. No woman took part in the first Olympic Games. 

Nor did they in the ancient Games which so inspired de Coubertin. In fact not only were they excluded from participating in sporting activities; they were not allowed to attend the ancient Olympic Games or other sporting festivals. But that was the olden days.

The man the world considers the “Father of the Modern Olympics” was of the opinion that female participation in the Olympic Games constituted a ‘regrettable impurity’ [1] and that the primary role of women should be to crown the victors. Maybe I should have written that in capital letters. A regrettable impurity?  Well, that’s not all he said. Here are a few more examples of his strongly held views of women in sport.

“Impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and, we are not afraid to say it, improper: such would be, in our view, this women’s pseudo-Olympiad”. [2]

“As to the admission of women to the Games, I remain strongly against it. It was against my will that they were admitted to a growing number of competitions.” [3]

“I still think that contact with women’s athletics is bad for [the male athlete], and that these athletics should be excluded from the Olympic programme.”  [4]

“The only real Olympic hero, as I said, is the individual adult male. Therefore, no women or team sports.” [5]

….and finally to cap it off…

“The role of the woman remains what it has always been: she is above all man’s companion, the future mother; and must be educated with that unchanging future in mind. ” [6]

I think I’ve made my point.

Fortunately today, things have improved somewhat. The IOC is committed to gender equality in sport.  According to The Olympic Charter (Rule 2, paragraph 7), one of the roles of the IOC is “to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.”

At the 2nd Olympic Games in 1900, on de Coubertin’s home turf, Paris, 22 women out of a total of 997 athletes competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian and golf.

In 1912 at the Stockholm Olympic Games, Fanny Durack won Australia’s first gold medal in the women’s 100 meters freestyle. 

Female participation has increased steadily, since the days when women were restricted to competing in ‘ladylike’ events such as swimming and tennis and only permitted to participate in Olympic sports that could be played while wearing a long skirt.  However it wasn’t until 2004 in Athens, that women were permitted to compete in all sports. At the 2012 Games in London women accounted for more than 44 per cent of the participants.

De Coubertin remained Honorary President of the IOC until he died in 1937 in Geneva, Switzerland. He was buried in Lausanne (the seat of the IOC), although, in accordance with his will, his heart was buried separately in a monument near the ruins of ancient Olympia.

[1] (Findling and Pelle, 1996:16) Historical dictionary of the modern Olympic movement – Greenwood Press, Westport.
[2] Coubertin – page 111 of the July 1912 edition of the Olympic Review
[3] IOC Bulletin- 3rd year – 1928 (Number 11- page 5)
[4] Sport Suisse – 4 July 1934 Speech given on 23 June 1934 in the main hall of Lausanne University on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Games of the V Olympiad.
[5] Le Journal – Paris, 27 August 1936, almost a year before Coubertin’s death.
[6] Notes on public education – 1901 – Hachette § XVII and “Textes Choisis” – I – page 261

Regrettable Impurity

Men’s ignorance has caused a lack of famous Olympic Queens,
who graced the field or cinder track to chase their golden dreams.
One Queen stood tall, upon her hill that other girls could follow,
in offering men a bitter pill that took 50 years to swallow.

She’d matched her hero Jesse Owens by the time the flame was embers.
Her name was Fanny Blankers-Koen, though nobody, now, remembers.
But there’s a place at the Olympic table, and it’s plain for all to see,
that women athletes are just as able, as any man can be.

Regrettable Impurity By Thom Vanstone is a sonnet about Fanny Blankers-Koen, forgotten feminist hero of the 1948 Olympics.   The Sporting Image: Unsung Heroes of the Olympics 1896-2012.
This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, History, Opus Loredana, Photography, Sport, Women, Women in Sport and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Father of Modern Olympics – Mysoginist?

  1. Pingback: Eileen Wearne – Trailblazing Sprinter | Random Phoughts

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