The Olympic Games are a sporting event that dates back to ancient Greece and was revived in the late 1800s. Before the 1970s, the Games were only open to amateur athletes, but by the 1980s, many sports had been opened up to professional athletes. The Games are now open to everyone, including the best professional basketball and football players (soccer). Several of the sports that are now part of the Summer Games curriculum were included in the ancient Olympic Games, which at times included competitions in as many as 32 different sports. Winter sports were sanctioned for the first time in 1924. The Olympic Games have established themselves as the most important sporting event on the planet.
It’s unclear how far back in history organized sporting competitions took place, but they were almost certainly held in Greece nearly 3,000 years ago. The Olympic Games, held at Olympia; the Pythian Games at Delphi; the Nemean Games at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games, held near Corinth, were at least four Greek sporting festivals, often referred to as “classical games,” by the end of the 6th century BCE. Similar festivals were later held in over 150 cities around the world, including Rome, Naples, Odessus, Antioch, and Alexandria.
The Olympic Games were the most popular of all the games held in Greece. They were so important in Greek history that historians in late antiquity calculated time by the period between them—an Olympiad. They were held every four years between August 6 and September 19. As almost all Greek games, the Olympic Games were held as part of a religious festival. The city-state of Elis in the northwestern Peloponnese hosted them in honor of Zeus at Olympia. Coroebus of Elis, a chef, was the first Olympic champion mentioned in the records, winning the sprint race in 776 BCE. The idea that the Olympics started much earlier than 776 BCE is based on legend rather than factual facts.
While there were no women’s competitions in the ancient Olympics, some women are mentioned as the owners of the stables of some triumphant chariot entries in the official lists of Olympic victors. Girls and young women did train and participate locally in Sparta. Aside from Sparta, however, competitions for young Greek women were uncommon, and most likely confined to an annual local footrace. However, at Olympia, the Herean festival, which took place every four years in honor of the goddess Hera, featured a competition for young women of three age groups. However, the Herean race was not part of the Olympics (which took place at a different time of the year) and was most likely not started before the Roman Empire. The girls then played in a few other significant sporting venues for a short time.
The modern Olympics were created as a result of the thoughts and efforts of many people. Pierre, baron de Coubertin, was the most well-known architect of the modern Games, having been born on New Year’s Day, 1863, in Paris. Coubertin’s family tradition suggested a military or political career, but at the age of 24, he decided that education, especially physical education, was his calling. In 1890, he traveled to England to meet Dr. William Penny Brookes, who had piqued the Frenchman’s interest with some educational articles. Brookes had also attempted for decades to revive the ancient Olympic Games, based on a series of modern Greek Olympiads that began in Athens in 1859.Evangelis Zappas, who got the idea from Panagiotis Soutsos, a Greek poet who was the first to call for a modern revival and began promoting the idea in 1833, founded the Greek Olympics. Brookes’ first British Olympiad, held in London in 1866, was a success, attracting a large number of spectators and talented athletes. However, his subsequent attempts were met with less success, as well as public apathy and opposition from rival sporting organizations. Rather than giving up, Brookes started to advocate for the establishment of an international Olympic Games in Athens in the 1880s.
At the Congress of Paris in 1894, the management and creation of the modern Olympic Games were entrusted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC; Comité International Olympique). Coubertin’s headquarters were relocated to Lausanne, Switzerland, during World War I, and have remained there ever since. The IOC is responsible for ensuring the daily celebration of the Olympic Games, seeing that the Games are carried out in the spirit that inspired their revival and encouraging the growth of sports throughout the world. In 1894, the committee consisted of 14 members, including Coubertin.
IOC members are regarded as ambassadors for their respective national sports organizations by the committee. They are not delegates to the committee in any sense, and they do not accept any instructions from the government of their country, or from any organization or person, that would jeopardize their independence in any way.
The IOC is a permanent organization whose representatives are chosen by its members. The overall membership was set at 115 in 1999, with 70 people, 15 active Olympic athletes, 15 presidents of national Olympic committees, and 15 presidents of international sports federations. Members are elected for renewable eight-year terms, but they must retire at the age of 70. Future presidents may also be subject to term limits.
The IOC elects its president for an eight-year term, during which he or she is eligible for reelection for two additional four-year terms. The 15-member executive board meets with international federations and national Olympic committees regularly. The IOC as a whole meets once a year, and one-third of the members can request a meeting at any time.
The responsibility of hosting the Olympic Games is given to a city rather than a country. The IOC makes the final decision on the city. With the help of the national government, the city’s chief authority applies to host the Games.