Thinking About Olympism and the USA

Editor’s Note: Don Anthony, a noted Olympic historian from Great Britain and long-time friend of the United States Sports Academy, wrote this article for USSA President Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich. The Sport Journal is publishing this piece as a letter to the editor.

25 years ago Dr. William Renato Jones died. He was a Springfield graduate. Born in Rome and speaking Italian as a first language, he had British nationality, a Swiss mother, a Scottish father, and spent much of his working life in Germany! His first job on leaving Springfield was for the YMCA in Adana, Turkey. Later, for the YMCA, he organized a global congress in Paris which brought him to the attention of Unesco. This UN body appointed him
director of the Unesco Youth Institute in Gauting, near Munich. Concurrently, as a volunteer, he founded and became general secretary, of the world body
for basketball – FIBA. Furthermore, he was the obvious candidate to lead – again as general secretary – Unesco’s consultative body for sport – ICSPE
(the International Council for Sport and Physical Education) in l960. On retirement from his basketball post, he was invited to be honorary life president.
He refused!

“I will accept the title honorary life secretary” he said – and so it was – “anyone in sport knows it is the secretary who is the kingpin.”
Surrounding Jones were other formidable Springfield people such as Frank Hepp from Hungary. There was Ernst Jokl from Kentucky University; and the
President of ICSPEP, Philip Noel-Baker. Philip became unique – an Olympian – silver in the 1500 metres in l920 at Antwerp -and Nobel Peace Prize in
l959 for his work on disarmament. Philip too, had USA roots: he began his academic career in l907 at Haverford – then the major Quaker (Society of Friends) academy in North America. Another polyglot with a Canadian father and a Scottish mother, he spoke well in French, German, Greek and Italian. This last language he learned on the Serbian front in World War I when he worked as a pacifist with the Friends Ambulance Unit. The Italian government awarded him their highest honour for “bravery in battle.” Despite this, no matter how hard I tried, the organizers of the recent Turin Winter Olympic Games ignored my pleas that they should honor his unique qualifications for mention and commemoration! I had the wonderful pleasure of working closely with Jones and Philip for some 20 years from l960 onwards. Every moment with them was “an education and a joy” I once explained to my wife – to excuse my constant absences on duty for global physical education and sport. Strangely enough, the educational energies of the IOC were rather dormant between and 1960.and l980. In this time, Unesco began to lead matters and eventually the World Conference of Ministers of Sport came into being.

I look again at my profession of “physical education” – with its modern roots in the USA. These were summed-up marvellously by John Lucas in his article
in November 2004, for the Journal of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH): “The Great Gathering of Sport Scientists; the l904 St. Louis
Olympic Games Exposition Fair Physical Education Lectures.” I think of that other significant Springfield man Harold Friermood who was “always there” as world P.E. blossomed. Harold even attended the first meeting of the Amateur Volleyball Association of Great Britain, founded in London at the YMCA
headquarters in l955.

As my researches grew in Olympic matters, I discovered Charles Waldstein (Columbia, I think) and then Heidelberg and Cambridge (England) ending up as Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge and concurrently Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in that city, and Director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. A confidant of Coubertin, he arranged meetings with the Royal Princes in Athens in l896. He first met Coubertin during the young Frenchman’s studies of English schools and universities in l886. They met again in l896 when Waldstein pistol-shot for the USA in the Games. Charles (then Walston and a British national) was chairing the Arts Commission of the l924 Paris Olympic Games near the end of his life. His grandson, Oliver, still farming near Cambridge, was persuaded (by me) to donate his grandfather’s archives to the IOC Museum in Lausanne where they still lie. Again I was startled by the Athens American School of Classical Studies attitude in 2004 – when they showed no interest in honouring their previous Director!

In l889, at the famous Boston Conference on Physical Training, Coubertin delivered a paper. On the same platform was the Earl of Meath from England, the man who got PE on to the British education statute books in Parliament. In l89l both were elected members of the Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS) – in Shropshire, England. Brookes, the founder of the WOS was keenly aware of new developments in the USA, and also in Russia, France, Germany and elsewhere. David Young of Florida wrote a major book on this Olympian root in his distinctive l996 book “The modern Olympics – a struggle for survival”.

Coubertin’s major USA friend and colleague was of course William Sloane (Columbia and Princeton). Charles Battle tells me that Atlanta created a sculpting of Sloane for presentation to the IOC. Its whereabouts need research in Lausanne? It was the same with a sculpting of Philip Noel-Baker “Man of Sport- Man of Peace” given in l986 to the IOC as part of the Birmingham (England) bid. This lurked in the cellars at Lausanne until recent years when it was fished out and now graces the entrance of the Sports Court of Arbitration in Lausanne – a fitting place for one who was a master in international law! In the intervening years a copy of the sculpting was purchased by the University of Hiroshima in Japan. Philip attended the atom-bomb memorial meeting in August at Hiroshima whenever he could. At his last attendance, he was given only one minute to speak before the sounding of the peace gong in a square packed with 200,000 people. Pushing away his prepared speech Philip said “Say after me – no more war – no more Hiroshima!” Boom!!! What a man – what a brain – at nearly 90 years of age. At his last major speech, at the IOC Congress in Baden-Baden (l981), he was granted only 3 minutes under any other business. Taking 11 minutes, much to the consternation of the organizers, he got a three minute mass standing ovation for his last words -“If the IOC…can bring sport for all to the whole world – especially the developing world – I will nominate them for the Nobel Peace Prize!” Indeed I have a letter from the Nobel Committee, saying that such a nomination was made prior to his death in l982. I was left his two ice-axes (he was a keen mountaineer). I gave one to the Winter Sports Museum of Sarajevo and the second to the Winter Sports Museum of Pyongchaeng in Korea. I hope the latter might one day help to rebuild the former. Indeed plans are afoot to try to restore the energy of the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik which, organized seminars in the l980’s to celebrate Philip’s work for sport, peace, and development – and to look again at the feasibility of the Noel Baker Medals for outstanding examples of sport and international understanding. The first medals were awarded in l984 to the Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games Organizing Committee – and to President of the IOC at that time, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

For a moment, back to Atlanta: Local man George Hirthler, working with the Pierre de Coubertin International Committee (CIPC), managed to fund the erection of a delightful monument to Coubertin in a main square in his city. I wonder if it is still there and whether its purpose is still recognised and celebrated.

Further thoughts about the USA-Olympic links begin to flood back: John Lucas one asked me to investigate the sermon given in St. Paul’s cathedral by the “Bishop of Pennsylvania” (in Coubertin’s memoirs). It turned out that it was indeed a Bishop – but of Central Pennsylvania – one Ethelbert Talbot. It was this sermon which inspired Coubertin’s own description of the true Olympic ethos “The honor is less in winning than in taking part.” How we need to restate, and restate, and restate, this message – in today’s Olympic world consumed as it is by medal mania. The name John Lucas appears everywhere – even as Honorary Consul for Albania! What a wonderful testament for Olympism in the USA, and the world, his life has been – and still is. I thank him for much inspiration and education. It was much to him that the USOC National Olympic Academy flourished. Indeed in the early l980’s we were so taken with this model that we started the British National Olympic Academy (l982 – a one day affair). This is now institutionalised and we regularly have the problem of over-subscription – a long weekend – 120 people maximum. Two regular USA friends have been, and are, Elizabeth Hanley of Penn State and Robert Merchikoff of Seattle.

My own studies in physical education were nourished by USA texts starting in 1946. I remember Thomas Cureton visiting us at Loughborough in the tests – and- measurement days. When we started the British volleyball association we lacked knowledge of the high-level game. Fortuitously, one Victor Tseirov of the USSR Embassy rang me one day to say that “I am scientific attaché at the Embassy – but mainly because my father pushed me; in my heart I am one percent scientific attaché and 99 percent volleyball enthusiast.” At roughly the same time one John Gay (USA national team player) contacted us from the London Ruislip USAF base to offer us his expertise – and facilities! We now look forward to preparing British volleyball teams for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Such are the fortuitous chances of life – serendipity. Let us glory in it and use it more. In my own field, I have long thought that – with USA leadership – we could enrich the recently restored Great Library of Alexandria. The ancient library linked Pergamon with Alexandria. The revived library could be aided to establish a sports section to record the whole area of African sport – and its possible contribution to health and development in that continent – the one of greatest need. I write this thinking of my ancient namesake giving the Pergamon library to Cleopatra (as a love token!).

Out of all this nostalgia springs a thought. That 2007 will be the centenary of Philip Noel-Baker’s entry into academic life at Haverford – USA. Can we not celebrate this in different ways – e.g. a U.S. seminar to record and examine the USA’s past role in Olympic matters – its current status – and its future potential at one of the USOC’s centers?

On the global level to assist Dubrovnik in its recovery – a session at the IUC could be held. An initial 2006 step could be a small planning meeting at the IUC to also embrace the life and work of William Jones – who’s chosen Crown Prince in FIBA. Boris Stankovic – now of Olympic rank – could play an appropriate role.

I often remind audiences that the Olympic idea came out of moves to strengthen physical education; of the first 12 members of the IOC, six were educationists; Coubertin was the foremost comparative physical educationist of his time. Today in the fight against the dumbing-down of sport these values need urgently to be restored and the major world-power, the USA, has a special responsibility to us all.

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