Ideas of Pierre de Coubertin and Modern Olympic Movement

Ideas of Pierre de Coubertin and Modern Olympic Movement


V.I. Stolyarov, professor, Dr.Phil.
Russian state university of physical culture, sport, youth and tourism (SCOLIPhC), Moscow

Key words: Coubertin's ideas, Olympic movement, Olympism, concept of modern Olympism.

Relevance. Ahead of the Olympic Games in Sochi -2014 we need to apply the ideas of Pierre de Coubertin, who, as noted in the Olympic charter, invented the "concept of modern Olympism"[3, P. 7]. It is important to understand the guidelines of this concept and realize if its value is preserved nowadays and how relevant it is.

This was inspired by a number of other reasons.     

Despite a great number of published works dedicated to the life and views of Coubertin, as it was pointed out by J. Durie, "in general there is still very little known about thoughts and deeds of Coubertin, not to mention his life" [10, р. 57]. Even "among the members of the IOC very few people understand what Coubertin was really talking about, even though they are all interested in the Olympic movement standing above the rest of sports organizations because of its "spiritual status" (Norbert Muller - president of NOA of Germany, vice president of the International committee of Pierre de Coubertin) [11, р. 6]. One of the possible reasons for this is that in the vast number of Coubertin's works (the total amount is more than 12 thousand printed pages in 30 books, 50 pamphlets and more than 1,200 articles), as noted by many researchers, they are lacking the unambiguous and detailed characteristics of the meaning of Olympism..

Widespread and erroneous are opinions about the Coubertin's concepts and activities: it is presumed that the main purpose of Coubertin's life was the revival of the Olympic Games, and he sought to do so for the development of sport at the international level; attribution to Coubertin of the authorship of the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger", and the phrase "The main thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part"; a provision stating that in 1925, he resigned as the president of the IOC due to health conditions, etc. Moreover, in the recent years, there has been a widespread view that the new socio-cultural situation in sport and society as a whole requires a substantial change of the conceptual ideas of the Olympic Movement.

The purpose of the study was to allocate the guidelines of the concept of Olympism of Pierre de Coubertin and prove the statement on the importance of his ideas in relation to the current situation in the Olympic movement.

Results and discussion. The main ideas of Coubertin's Olympic concept. In Coubertin's numerous works there is really no unambiguous and detailed definition of Olympism. Even in his speech on the German radio in 1935, "The Philosophical Foundations of the Olympic Movement," which can be regarded as his ideological testament, we won't find an accurate and expanded definition of what Olympism really is. In that speech Coubertin only listed a set of values that form the basis of Olympism. Among them are: the idea of universal sacred truce, competition for the selection of the best, biological improvement of the human race, chivalrous spirit, spiritual beauty, religion. Continuation of this list can be found in his other works and speeches.

Yet the analysis of Coubertin's works enables to allocate some of the most important ideas of the concept of modern Olympism he has developed.

In order to understand this concept it is particularly important to consider the main purpose, which he set for himself throughout his life: to reform the system of education and training existed in France in the period of his life. In 1909, in his book called "Battle for physical education. A 21 year campaign (1887-1908)" Coubertin wrote: "For fifty years, my existence has been associated with the educational reform, in which I began to see clearly the first and most important need of our time. Strongly rejecting everything that could captivate me for a different path, since then i have been orienting myself exclusively in this direction" [see: 10, р. 31]. This idea "brought meaning to his whole from the moment when in solving educational problems he saw the key to human happiness and social well-being" [12, р. 3].

However, Coubertin also pointed out the possibility of the negative impact of sport on a person and social relations, as well as its use for anti-human purposes. "Sport - he wrote - can cause the most noble and most malign feelings; it can develop selflessness and greed; can be magnanimous and corrupt, manly and disgusting; finally, it can be used to promote peace or to prepare for war "[2, p. 22]. "We know that sport can lead to serious abuse, drown in mercantilism and vulgarity and we should protect it from such a fate. If we don’t do that, all hopes associated with sport will be destroyed and it will not play any role in any school education or in public life, but on the contrary, will help corruption, giving it an extra chance" [12, р. 369].

To avoid the negative impact of sport on a person and social relations, Coubertin proposed a number of measures: ban on cash prizes based sport competitions; refusal of the municipalities to the construction of large stadiums to be used exclusively for sports "show", construction of stadiums according to the modernized plan of Greek gymnasiums; ban on competition as a spectacle involving athletes younger than 16 years, etc..

Sports rivalry implies the desire of each participant to win. Absolutization of this orientation leads to the position formulated by a football trainer from the U.S. V. Lombardi. He is credited with the words: «Victory is not the most important thing; victory is the only thing worth fighting for». Coubertin also believed that an Olympic athlete should strive to achieve the maximum possible result. Coubertin categorically opposed "excessive moderation" of sports results, seeing "attractiveness" of sport and its "right to exist" in their constant growth. He believed the idea of ending this to be an utopia fostered by non-athletes [11]. Criticizing those who called for "moderation" to abandon sports records, Coubertin wrote: « Sport record is an inevitable apex of the entire sports system. Therefore, proponents of the utopia of moderation should admit defeat. Moderation is contrary to nature itself. Watch as we continue implementing the motto of Father Didon, which he had a habit of repeating to his disciples and which became the motto of the Olympic movement: Faster, higher, stronger!» [2, p. 176].

According to Coubertin, the Olympic behavior in a competition implies not just participation, but the manifestation of courage, faith, perseverance, desire towards achievements, maximum possible result, victory, but at the same time rejection of the desire to win at any cost, at the expense of health or damage to health of the opponents, by deceit, violence, unfair refereeing and other inhumane acts. An Olympian must prefer honest, noble behavior in sports matches. So first of all he should try not to win over an opponent, but rather over himself. In this context, the name of one of the Coubertin's articles is rather characteristical: "Conquer thyself." On his proposal a medal for participating in African Games was inscribed with: «Athletae Proprium Est Se Ipsum Noscere, Ducere et Vincere» («The duty and the essence of the athlete are to know himself, to control himself and to outdo himself»).

To solve the above social and educational problems of the Olympic Movement Coubertin in his publications and speeches offers a number of forms and methods. Among them, he first of all considers the following:

  • humanistic orientation of participants and leaders of the Olympic movement to use sport for the purpose of education, improvement of individual and social relations;
  • conducting scientific Olympic conferences to discuss sports and educational problems;
  • deployment of sports education in the Olympic movement, which focuses on the ideals of Olympism;
  • integration of sports with art, including the integration of art competitions in the Olympic program;
  • creation and use of a certain kind of "sports religion” (religio athleticae) - Olympic symbols and attributes (Olympic Charter, Olympic flag, lighting of the Olympic flame, Olympic vow of athletes and referees, etc.), which goes back to the ancient religious ritual and so on.

Proceeding from the above, the concept of modern Olympism having been designed by Coubertin can be estimated as a science-based socio-educational project with expressed humanistic orientation, which is of great sociocultural value at present [5, 6].

The modern meaning of P. de Coubertin's ideas. A frequently expressed opinion that the new socio-cultural situation in sport and society in general requires rejection of the humanistic values of the Olympic movement proposed by Coubertin, can hardly be justified. It does not take into account those significant changes that occurred in the field of sport and beyond it over the past decade. Sport became widespread all over the world. A broad system of regular  international sports meetings and competitions (in Europe, for example, not a week goes by without holding some major tournament, the World or Continental championship) has been developed and successfully operated, during which the strongest athletes are identified and awarded. There are so many of these sports events that there appears to be an issue of reducing them. The development of sport in the recent decades particularly clearly showed that under certain conditions, sports events may adversely affect people, relationships between them, can be used in rather inhumane way. Moreover, a disturbing trend of the development of sport in this particular direction has been revealed. It is also important to consider the above-noted growing awareness of the priority of humanistic values in the development of modern society and our desire not only to declare it, but also to implement it, as the only way out of the crisis in which humanity had found itself at the end of the twentieth century, is the humanization all spheres of public life. The sphere of sport cannot be an exception in this regard.

Conclusion. All the above does not mean that Coubertin designed the ideal concept of modern Olympism and that it is impossible to find statutes that deserve the critical attitude. It is, for example, exaggeration of the role of education and training in solution of social issues, taking into account the influence of only subjective factors on the social significance of sport, the negative attitude to women's participation in Olympic sport, his controversial stance on the issue of the relationship of sport and politics.

Today the task that he has always faced, but now it is getting more urgent, is on the front of the Olympic movement: to achieve ultimately complete and effective implementation in sport and via sport of specific universal humanistic values​, so that sport, sports competitions, relationship, contacts were used purely for humanitarian purposes, contributed to the humanization of human relations and humanistic development of the personality.


  1. Anthony Don (1994). Coubertin Pedagogy // Pierre de Coubertin an unrecognized genius… – Lausanne, The International Pierre de Coubertin Committee, 1994. – Р. 27–31.
  2. Coubertin Pierre de. La limited u record // Revue Olympique, 9e année, novembre, 1909. – Р. 164-166.
  3. Coubertin Pierre de. Discours à Athènes (16 nov. 1894) // Pierre de Coubertin. Textes choisis. Tome II. – Zurich-Hildesheim-New York: Weidmann, 1986. – Р. 364-375.
  4. Coubertin Pierre de. An ode to sport. – Moscow: Fizkultura i sport, 1987. – 57 P. (In Russian)
  5. Coubertin Pierre de. Olympic memoirs. – Kiev: Olimpiyskaya literatura, 1997. – 179 P. (In Russian)
  6. Durry Jean. The Cultural Events at the Olympic Games and Pierre de Coubertin’s thinking // IOA. Report of the thirty-eighth Session 15th July – 30th July 1998. Int. Olympic Committee, 1999. – Р. 56-66.
  7. Müller N. Olympism and Olympic Education // 4th Joint International Session for Directors of NOAs, members and staff of NOCs, and Ifs (7-14 May 1998). – Ancient Olympia, Greece, 1998. – 10 p.
  8. Rioux Georges. Propos Liminaires. Pierre de Coubertin éducateur // Pierre de Coubertin. Textes choisis. Tome I. – Zurich-Hildesheim-New York: Weidmann, 1986. – Р. 1-34.
  9. Olympic Charter / Transl. from Engl. – Moscow: Sovetsky sport, 2008. – 96 P. (In Russian)
  10. Stolyarov, V.I. Olympism as a humanistic philosophic concept // The humanistic theory and practice of sport. Issue1. International sport and Olympic movement in view of humanism: collected papers. – Moscow: Humanitatian center «SpArt» RSUPhC, 2000. – P. 195-230. (In Russian)
  11. Stolyarov, V.I. The Olympic concept of Pierre de Coubertin and modern times / V.I. Stolyarov // Olimpiyskiy bulleten'. – 2005. – № 7. – Moscow. – P. 84-94. (In Russian)
  12. Stolyarov, V.I. The philosophy of sport and human corporality: monograph. In 2 b. – Book 1. The introduction to the world of philosophy of sport and human corporality / V.I. Stolyarov. – Moscow: Universitetskaya kniga, 2011. – 766 P. (In Russian)

Corresponding author: