Englishness was the starting block for modern Olympic Games, claims University of Leicester historian
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Communities and also in Education
‘More than any other nation, the English invented modern sport and it was their thinking about education that inspired the re-invention of the Olympic games’ - Professor Rob Colls, University of Leicester
English public schools and their sporting traditions provided the inspiration for the modern Olympic Games, according to a University of Leicester academic.
Professor Robert Colls, of the University’s School of Historical Studies, will give a lecture explaining how 19th century French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee, acted as a missionary for English values.
Professor Colls’s talk, ‘England and the Olympics’, will be the keynote lecture at the University’s Summer Reunion for alumni and staff on June 30 which is also open to the local community.
Pierre de Coubertin was born in 1863, and was intrigued by the English public school system. He travelled to England in his early 20s to see the schools for himself – including the Rugby School in Warwickshire.
He was particularly interested in the public schools’ use of sport as part of education, which reminded him of the practices of the Ancient Greeks.
Although Coubertin was unsuccessful in incorporating physical education into French schools, he was able to develop his feelings about the English approach to Sport in his next idea – the revival of the Olympic Games.
He founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894, which organised the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.
Professor Colls said: “Coubertin’s idea of the Olympic Games was about the gentlemanly amateur. You could not be paid to do sport and remain a gentleman. There was a down side to this in terms of who had the best chances to train, but there was an upside in that it linked modern sport to civility and fairness, not money and winning at all costs. It all seems very old fashioned now, but I think it actually meant that modern sport got off to a good start where what mattered was the public good, not private gain.
“The English amateur influence was egalitarian because the Olympics were open to all and kept out big business. In spite of all the money that infests the Olympics now, you can still see in the athletes a sense of community and shared endeavour – a kind of respect that maybe you don’t get in other games. It is still understood that this event is not just about the fastest time or the winning margin; it is also about improving people’s lives after the circus has moved on.”
“More than any other nation, the English invented modern sport and it was their thinking about education that inspired the re-invention of the Olympic games. If the French pioneered its organisation, and the Greeks took possession of their heritage, it was the English who gave the games their modern meaning. My lecture will explain what that meaning was, and speculate what has happened to it since.”
The lecture will be held at 11am on Saturday, June 30 on the University’s main campus.