The Idea of Peace as Coubertin’s Vision for the Modern Olympic Movement: Development and Pedagogic Consequences

The Origin of the Idea of Peace in the Modern
Olympic Movement

The Olympic Games took place in ancient Greece 293 times from 776 B.C.
up to 393 A.D., i.e. over a period of almost 12 centuries, in contrast
to modern times without interruption.

The term “peace” was not used in ancient Greece with the
Panhellenic Games, but the Greek word Ekecheiria (ekeceiria),
which etymologically means “truce”. Marc GOLDEN in his brand
new Lexicon “Sport in the Ancient World from A to Z” gives
the following explanation:

“Truce (Greek ekecheiria, hieromenia, spondai ). A period
before and after Greek festivals during which the territory of the host
city was inviolate and competitors, spectators and others had safe passage
to and from it. The beginning of the truce was proclaimed by emissaries
(spondophoroi, theoroi) to the major centres of the Greek world.
The period of the truce varied. For the Olympics, it grew from one to
two months on either side of the festival; for the Pythian Games, it extended
for a full year. In these cases and others, violations occurred. A writer
on tactics even recommends attack during a festival and the Altis at Olympia
was the site of a pitched battle during the festival in 364. It was sufficiently
well known by the mid-fifth century to be used to schedule sacrifices
on far-off Selinus, Sicily.”

The ancient Greeks would use the word “eirene”describing
the modern term “peace.” In 1795 the great German philosopher
Immanuel Kant published his treatise “On Eternal Peace” (“Zum
Ewigen Frieden”). His conception of peace embraced philosophical,
historical, legal and political aspects.

In the 19 th century the idea of worldwide peace became part and parcel
of general humanistic thinking. There were first attempts to put these
ideas organizationally into practice.

As the real beginning of the modern peace movement must be considered
Bertha von Suttner’s (1843-1914) novel “Die Waffen Nieder”
(Down with Weapons) published in 1889 and translated into many different

Peace organizations were founded in many countries in Europe, a strong
organization in Great Britain and the USA, with people of all walks of
life being active members.

Pierre de Coubertin’s Concept of Peace

Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937)

As a young man, in 1892, Coubertin had the idea of renewing the ancient
Olympic Games, which duly took place in Athens in 1896. Whereas his educational
aspirations had additionally been confined to France, the success of these
first Olympic Games marked, for COUBERTIN, the internationalization of
his educational visions, where his main priority at first was the idea
of peace among nations.

“Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other. We shall
no have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races
shall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to
bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials
of muscular strength and agility? “

The quotation above shows his notion of peace. In these ambitions he
was influenced by his paternal friend Jules Simon. Simon h ad been a co-founder
of the Interparliamentary Union, established in Paris in 1888, and the
International Peace Bureau, founded in 1892.

80% of the honorary members of the IOC founding Congress 1894 in Paris
were members of national peace movements. Five of those won later Nobel
Peace Prices.

Coubertin was convinced that peace education could only be effective
if theoretical learning was accompanied by personal experience. Olympic
sport was the very means to achieve this aim. Sport in the sense should
become an instrument to reform economy and politics and thus society as
a whole: “The Olympic Games will be a potent, if indirect factor
in securing universal peace”.

Pierre de Coubertin was primarily a pedagogue and his foremost aim was
to reform education. In 1925 he was one of the founders of the World Pedagogical
Union (Union Pégagogique Universelle/ U.P.U.) compiled a “Charter
of Educational Reform” and in 1926 he founded an “International
Center of Sports Education” (Bureau International de Pédagogie
sportive/B.I.P.S.). His great achievement was to combine and interweave
sports, education, and the idea of world-wide peace. Influenced by his
experiences during several visits to England, especially by the study
of Thomas Arnold’s (1795-1842) conception of education, Pierre de
Coubertin demanded ethical and moral values together with physical training
– sports being the basis and initiating source. Coubertin’s
programme of modern sports education did not originate in ancient Greece
but in the system of English public schools. The idea of universal peace
was predominant in his thoughts on the beginning, a misunderstanding of
the ancient notion of peace by Coubertin. The modern Olympic Games conceived
by Coubertin were built on the three pillars: elite sports, ethics and

Evaluating and looking back on the Games of 1896 Coubertin writes in
more realistic tones:

“ One may be filled with a desire to see the colors of one’s
club or college triumph in a national meeting, but how much stronger is
the feeling when the colours of one’s own country are at stake!
It was with these thoughts in mind that I sought to revive the Olympic
games. I have succeeded after many efforts. [I hope] it may be a potent,
if indirect, factor in securing international peace.”

Coubertin’s “Ode to Sport” underlines the identification
of sport and peace in literary form:

“O Sport, You are Peace!

You forge happy bonds between the peoples

by drawing them together in reverence for strength

which is controlled, organised and self disciplined.

Trough you the young of the entire world

learn to respect one another,

and thus the diversity of national traits becomes a source

of generous and peaceful emulation! “

In his early writings, he refers to international sporting encounters
as “the free trade of the future”
seeing the participating athletes as “ambassadors of peace”
even though by his own admission he still had to take care, at the time
of the founding of the IOC in 1894, not to say too much about this, not
wanting – as he says in a document that has come down to us – to ask too
much of sportsmen or to frighten the pacifists. With his ideas of peace,
however, Coubertin associated an ethical mission which, then as now, was
central to the Olympic Movement and – if it were to succeed – had to lead
to political education. On the threshold of the 20th century, Coubertin
tried to bring about enlightened internationalism by cultivating a non-chauvinistic

The Notion of Peace in the Olympic Charter


Society, world-political relations and ethical norms etc. have changed
gradually or radically since Coubertin, but the Olympic Charter of today
still comprises as an essential part Coubertin’s philosophy. He
has described his imaginations concerning the relationships between sport,
Olympism, and peace in the Olympic Charter. From the nine Fundamental
Principles the following two are especially relevant:

Art. 3. “The goal of Olympism is to place everywhere sport at
the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging
the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation
of human dignity. To this effect, the Olympic Movement engages, alone
or in cooperation with other organizations and within the limits of its
means, in action to promote peace.”

Art. 6. “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to
building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport
practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit,
which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity
and fair play.”

The Olympic rings combining the five continents are also a symbol of
peace and international understanding; the colors symbolizing the colors
of all national flag are indirect representing the world wide nations.

The Cooperation between the IOC and the UN


In the 20 th century the Olympic Ideal of peace was repeatedly violated
(e.g. by the two World-Wars, Munich 1972). But the continuity of the ideal
was maintained and enforced, especially after the presidency of Avery

The IOC and the UN became congenial partners:

Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the United Nations in 2000:

“Olympic Ideals are also United Nations ideals: tolerance, equality,
fair play and, most of all, peace together, the Olympics and the United
Nations can be a winning team. But the contest will not be won easily.
War, intolerance and deprivation continue to stalk the earth. We must
fight back, Just as athletes strive for world records, so must we strive
for world peace.”

The ancient concept of Olympism was revived. The UN declared 1994 as
the “International Year of Sport and the Olympic Ideal”. General
Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali emphasized the close connection between
the Olympic ethos and the fundamental principles of the UN.

In January 1994 International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio
Samaranch proclaimed an “Olympic Truce”: All wars the world
over should be interrupted 7 days before and after the Winter Games in

In 1994 Samaranch travelled to Sarajevo during the Olympic Truce, to
express his solidarity with the host town of the 1984 Olympic Winter Games.
In 1995 the resolution of Olympic Peace was renewed during the Olympic
Summer Games in Atlanta, as well as in 1999 for Sydney, but very restricted
in November 2001 concerning the time of the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

In 1995 it was for the first time in the history of the Olympic Movement
that the IOC President spoke before the General Assembly of the UN.

Peace Education

The field of peace education varies from studying the causes of human
violence to studying the causes of war. The study of human violence involves
the human psyche and aspects of aggression, while the study of war focuses
on the behaviour of armies and nation-states. In between these two poles
lies a vast academic domain that included the study of conditions of survival,
problems of communication, international relations, legal theory and environmental

Whether working to achieve immediate or long-range objectives, peace
education has ten main goals formulated by I. Harris:

  1. To appreciate the richness of the concept of peace
  2. to address fear
  3. to provide information about defence systems
  4. to understand war behaviour
  5. to develop intercultural understanding
  6. to provide a future orientation
  7. to teach peace as a process
  8. to promote a concept of peace accompanied by social justice
  9. to stimulate a respect for life and
  10. to end violence.

The famous English author H.G. Wells (1866-1946)
stated the urgency of peace education in his famous statement, that human
beings are embarked upon “a race between education and catastrophe”.

According to O. Grupe and the author the following pedagogic educational
concepts can be described from Coubertin’s ideas:

  1. the self-awareness through sports
  2. the harmony of physical and spiritual training
  3. the idea of human perfection with the help of physical achievement
  4. sports deliberately based upon ethics as the leading principle
  5. respect for and tolerance of competitors
  6. understanding brought about by sport practice
  7. the idea of peace and international and interracial understanding
  8. The promotion of emancipatory developments in and through sports.

Within the peace education field, human rights education is normally
viewed as a subject of peace education. Yet the Declaration adopted at
the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna 1993 views human rights
education as an all-embracing concept. Article II.d of the Declaration
runs as follows:

“Human Rights Education should include peace, democracy, development
and social justice, as set forth in international and regional human rights
instruments in order to achieve common understanding and awareness with
a view to strengthening universal commitment to human rights…The proclamation
of a United Nations decade for human rights education in order to promote,
encourage and focus these educational activities should be considered.”

This way of defining human rights education causes it to overlap with
peace education.

Peace Education as Learning Principle in School Education


All idealistic objectives and goodwill proclamations are useless if
they are not effectively put into practice. Gandhi’s quotation shows
the way by emphasizing the necessity of starting peace education with
the young ones. Ethical principles should be acquired, based upon and
tested in everyday life and therefore in different social contexts. For
man as a social being educational objective is the realization of the
notion of peace.

As to school education the following principles will help to promote

  1. practice of personal courage,
  2. respect of the dignity of others,
  3. acknowledgement of religious values,
  4. responsible use of freedom,
  5. fight against prejudices,
  6. fairness,
  7. tolerance and
  8. intercultural understanding.

Children must learn to solve quarrels without violence.


It is precisely the relationship between nationalism and international
peace – a one-sided one hitherto, because invariably regarded as a contradiction
in terms – that forms the challenging peace ethos and fascination of Olympism.
From the beginning, Coubertin’s sights were set upon interplay between
nations united by enthusiasm for peace and an internationalism that would
set a ceremonial seal on their peaceful ambitions.

Coubertin’s plans thus extended from the outset beyond the organizing
of Olympic Games every four years. He wanted mankind in the 20th century
to experience sport in the harmonious interplay of physical and intellectual
skills, so that – set in an artistic, aesthetic frame – it would make
an important contribution to human happiness.

London & New York, Routledge,
2004, p.169. See also the important explication of ekecheiria
by ROUGEMONT,G.: La hiéroménie des Pythia et les « trêves
sacrées » d’Eleusis, de Delphes et d’Olympie.
In: BCH 97(1937)75-106.

Coubertin, P. de: The Olympic games
of 1896. In: The century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol.LIII, New Series,
Vol.XXXXI, November 1896 to April 1897, p.53.Reprinted in: Müller,
N. (ed.): Pierre de Coubertin.Olympism. Lausanne, IOC, 2000, p.360.

Ibidem, pp. 170-178.

Cf.Quanz, D.: Civic Pacifism and
Sports-Based Internationalism. Framework for the Founding of the IOC.
In: Olympika.Int.Journal of Olympic Studies, 2(1993), pp.1-23.


Coubertin. Selected Writings, ibidem,
p .360.

Quoted from Müller, N. (ed.):
Pierre de Coubertin.Olympism.Selected Writings. Lausanne, IOC, 2000, p.360.
The French version is: „O Sport, tu es la Paix. Tu établis
des rapports heureux entre les peuples en les rapprochant dans le culte
de la force contrôlée. organisée et maîtresse
d’elle-même. Par toi la jeunesse universelle apprend à
se respecter et ainsi la diversité des qualités nationales
devient la source d’une généreuse et pacifique émulation.
“, quoted from Coubertin, P. de: ‚Ode au Sport’. In:
CDI (ed.): L’idée olympique. Cologne 1966, p. 39.

Coubertin: Physical Exercises in
the Modern World. Lecture Given at the Sorbonne (November 1892). In: Müller,
N. (Ed.): Olympism. Selected Writings of Pierre de Coubertin. Lausanne,
IOC, 2000, p.297.

Coubertin : L’athlétisme.
Son rôle et son histoire. In : La Revue Athlétique 2
(1891), 204.

cf. Quanz, D.R. : Formkraft
der IOC-Gründung : Die zeitgenössische Friedensbewegung.
In: Schaller,H.J./Pache,D. (Eds.): Sport als Lebenschance und Bildungsreform.
Schorndorf 1995, pp.165-173.

International Olympic Committee:
Olympic Charter . 2003, p. 9.


Extract of Kofi Annan’s
message on the Games in Sydney, 15th September until 1st October 2000,
cf. website:

cf. Harris, I.: The goals of
peace education. 1988, n.p.

quoted from: Harris, I.: The
goals of peace education. 1988, n.p.

cf. Brock-Utne, B.: Peace education.
2000, p. 134.

Concerning this paper see also
GERLING, J.: Der Friedensgedanke in der modernen Olympischen Bewegung:
Ursprung, Entwicklung und pädagogische Folgerungen. Staatsexamensarbeit.
Mainz, Fachbereich Sport, 2002. (unpublished)