Series on Olympic Congresses: Le Havre 1897
The principal reason for calling another Olympic Congress three years after the inaugural meeting in Paris and just over a year after the first Olympic Games in Athens was to address the Greek demand to host the Olympics permanently. Greek military action against Turkey in the summer of 1896 soon silenced their request but Pierre de Coubertin, installed as IOC president immediately after the Athens Games, had other reasons for calling a second Congress.
The agenda for Le Havre – Hygiene, Education and History relating to Physical Education – reflected Coubertin’s desire for sport to be considered equal in value to academic exercise. Coubertin rejected offers from Berlin and Budapest to stage the Congress because – despite subsequent Greek resistance – Paris had been nominated at the 1894 Congress to host the 1900 Olympics and Coubertin wanted to raise the Olympic profile in France. Le Havre was also the summer residence of the French President Félix Faure, who accepted to become Honorary President of the Congress.
Other notable participants included the Dominican preacher and writer Father Henri Didon, who delivered an impassioned speech on “the character forming qualities of sport”. In terms of concrete results, however, the Congress of 1897 was not so notable but it is perhaps fair to say that an exchange of ideas on the meaning of sport was a necessary process. Coubertin himself said of Le Havre: “From that day onward nobody among us [IOC members] ever talked about dissolving or leaving the continuation of our work to others.”