The modern Olympic Games were launched in 1894 with the full support of the larger and broader peace movement of the time. In fact, more than half of the 78 honorary delegates listed on the official programme for the Olympic Congress that began in the Sorbonne on 16 June that year were directly engaged in the movement for peace. Five of those individuals and one organisation they represented—the International Peace Bureau—would be named among the first 13 winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. They stood in support of Baron Pierre de Coubertin because they recognised the peace-making dimensions of his Olympic vision for global sport.
“Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other,” the Baron proclaimed. “We shall not have peace until the prejudices that now separate the different races are outlived. To attain this end, what better means is there than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility?”
Over and over again, Coubertin expressed the idea that sports competition at the international level could help foster understanding, respect and peace between nations. While he recognised that sport could be used for good or evil—“Athletics can bring into play both the noblest and the basest passions … they can be used to strengthen peace or to prepare for war”—he sought to ensure that the Olympic Games themselves served the higher aspirations of humanity.
Throughout his life, Coubertin had an unshakable faith in the ability of sport to transform relationships between people and nurture friendships through contact and interaction. He believed that all the barriers that separate people and nations—political, religious, economic and social—could be in some way overcome as sport served to enhance understanding between team-mates and competitors. His view was idealistic, but the power of the idea has proven its worth across the last century.
For the Baron, peace was always the link between the personal and the universal at the Games. In his first public proposal to revive the Games in 1892, the Baron made the cause of peace the core of his call to action: “Let us export rowers, runners and fencers; there is the free trade of the future, and on the day when it is introduced within the walls of old Europe the cause of peace will have received a new and mighty ally.”