for the founders of the Modern Olympic Games
July 26, 2004
Letters to the Editor
The real history of the Olympics
I VERY MUCH enjoyed Clare Balding's column ('Wanted: a 21st- century de Coubertin', last week) which, among other things, discussed the philosophy of participating in sport and that of winning and losing. It is ironic, though, that you are looking for a 21st-century de Coubertin when he did not place first in the founding of the modern Olympic Games. How is it possible that de Coubertin continues to be considered the sole founder of the Games and why does the world's media continue to echo the myth? True, de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894, and the Olympic Games of today are still 'managed' by that same IOC. Unfortunately it is the IOC who (like de Coubertin) fail to formally acknowledge as founders of the modern Olympics two men with particularly important roles in re-establishing the Games.
One is British: Dr William Penny Brookes, who de Coubertin visited in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, in 1890. He was inspired by Brookes to go on to found the IOC and used many of the doctor's ideas in what we call the 'Olympic Movement' of today. His Annual Olympian Games continue today (I competed in the Triathlon of those Games earlier this month). The other man was a very wealthy Greek philanthropist who lived and worked in Romania for many years, Evangelis Zappas. He financed the refurbishment of the Panathenian Stadium in Athens that was used for the second modern Olympic Games in Greece in 1870. The first modern Olympic Games was held in 1859 in a city square in Athens. The Olympics that he started was smothered by elitists at the third Games in 1875.
Dr Brookes had organised annual sports events in Much Wenlock since 1850. It was not till 1859, when he was inspired by events in Athens, that he christened them 'Olympian Games' and expanded the programme to include more 'Olympic-like' events through the early 1860s.
Zappas left his considerable fortune for an Olympic Games to be held every four years in Greece in perpetuity. The fortune was also used to build the first indoor Olympic arena (called the Zappeion), which is today used as the national exhibition centre of Greece, and to start a second refurbishment of the Panathenian stadium for the first IOC Olympic Games in 1896. Unfortunately, his legacy was mismanaged by a young Greek government and a German King.
The IOC has not yet formally acknowledged Brookes or Zappas as founders of the modern Olympic Games or the modern Olympic movement because they did not found the IOC. Had they not put down those first foundations then de Coubertin would not have had a Modern Olympic band-wagon to jump on to.
Recommended reading by Zappas.org: