Coubertin’s legacy lives on
Like many people, I consider New Year's Day to be an opportune time to reflect on the past while looking to the future. This is especially true today as it marks the 150th birth anniversary of the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin.
Coubertin’s personal motto was “look far, speak frankly, act firmly”, but even he could not have foreseen how his vision for the Games would grow into one of the most significant cultural events in history. He would be delighted to know that 118 years after establishing the Internation-al Olympic Committee (IOC), the Olympic Movement is stronger than ever. And it is safe to assume he would have been astonished by what transpired in 2012.
Last year, London produced what will unquestionably be remembered as one of the great Games. The Youth Olympic Games continued to take root and grow with the successful launch of the first winter edition in Innsbruck, Austria. Important milestones were achieved in relation to the participation of women in sport and in legacy and environmental planning. Initiatives to spread the Olympic values continued to develop, in particular those undertaken in collaboration with the United Nations using sport as a tool for development. And despite the worst global recession in the last 60 years, the IOC's financial situation is the healthiest it has ever been.
Still basking in the afterglow of such a remarkable Olympic year, it is easy to overlook what a Herculean task Coubertin faced when reviving, almost single-handedly, the Olympics at the end of the 19th century.
He advocated that organised sport strengthened not only the body but also the will and mind, while at the same time promoting universality and fair play. But in his time, sport was considered by most to be a frivolous pursuit. Years later, he admitted that many felt his idea was "a dream and a chimera". In the face of obstacles, Coubertin remained resolute, selflessly donating his time, toil and personal fortune to breathe new life into the Olympic Games of antiquity, believing that sport bred values such as excellence, friendship and respect.
He gradually gained the support and confidence of a small but growing group of likeminded individuals. In a surprisingly short period, these individuals would become the founding members of the IOC in 1894. Two years later, Athens would host the first Olympics of the modern era.
Coubertin was the second President of the IOC and its longest-serving, with a 29-year term of office (1896-1925). He devoted much of the rest of his post-presidential life to ensuring the continuation of the Games and the purity of competition.
Coubertin also gave us the Olympic rings, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the athletes' oath and the Olympic Museum, among others. But it was the Coubertin-penned Olympic Charter containing the Olympic values that has had the most profound influence on the Olympic Movement.
Coubertin gave all of himself to his cause. On this New Year’s Day, the entire Olympic Movement tips its hat to the man who started it all.
(The writer is the current President of the International Olympic Committee)