Pierre de Coubertin and the Future

Symposium Lausanne 2014

The International Olympic Committee announced the beginning of the jubilee year for Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s (born 1st January 1863) 150th anniversary on 6th January 2013. Numerous activities were held and organized in his honor. One of many examples for this is the publication of Coubertin’s complete works on CD entitled Oeuvres Complètes/Complete Works Pierre de Coubertin (1863 – 1937). It was a project of the Comité International Pierre de Coubertin (CIPC) and the digital publication was edited by Norbert Müller and Otto Schantz. Another initiative of the CIPC was the organization of the symposium Pierre de Coubertin and the Future which was held in Lausanne on the 24th and 25th January 2014 at the Olympic Museum. The belated date was chosen to follow Mr. Francis Gabet’s (Director of The Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage) idea, namely to use the renovation of The Olympic Museum and its new exhibition profile as a congress venue. The idea was welcomed and the symposium was a success. It was attended by 111 participants coming from 31 countries. The organization of the symposium profited much from the support of the IOC and the staff members of the Olympic Museum. This was the 3rd symposium of the CIPC. The 1st one took place in Lausanne in 1986 and was followed by the 2nd one in Le Havre in 1997.


It is important to comment a bit more on the symposium’s topic Pierre de Coubertin and the Future. Without doubt, we can celebrate the year 1894 as the origin of the modern Olympic Movement. However, whilst it was Coubertin’s efforts to organize and lead the first Olympic Congress in Paris, he must not merely be praised as the modern Olympic Games’ inventor. Consideration must also be given to the fact that he grounded the development of his Olympic idea on an educational basis. Coubertin highly regarded regulated sport as a vehicle for change in terms of the reconstruction of moral and social values, which seemed to be crumbling both in the late 19th Century France and elsewhere. According to him, sport was a most effective remedy to alleviate the problems that threatened the stabilization of a society bent on modernity, democracy, and mutual respect, both at the national and international level.


Bearing in mind that Coubertin developed his idea in the late 19th Century, it only reinforces the appreciation that his vision and value centered interpretation of sport is still relevant today, although, this remembrance does require one to take into account the different demands and nature of today´s sporting world and society. Of course, this is a challenge as our world becomes ever increasingly complex. In fact, the symposium challenged us to seriously think about how to adapt Coubertin´s core approach to an educationally oriented sport to our world, without diminishing his undeniable importance as the modern Olympic Movement’s founder. To achieve this, it is necessary to evaluate Coubertin´s thoughts from a wider perspective and in doing this, it is possible to accentuate their validity for today´s sporting world with greater conviction.


The former President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, and the current IOC-President, Thomas Bach, have regarded the modern interpretation of Coubertin as highly important. Furthermore, both mentioned the Olympic Movement’s values, emphasizing this interpretation’s uniqueness. Without doubt, Coubertin coined this uniqueness himself, as it was he who linked international sport with an educational mission; aiming at personal growth and transcultural understanding.


The symposium aimed at contributing to discussing and evaluating the necessity of a modern reading of Coubertin. It was important to address this objective from a broad cultural and international perspective. This was realized by the invitation of international keynote speakers such as Hans Lenk (Germany), Patrick Clastres (France), and Eckhard Meinberg (Germany). On the second day, interpretations of the symposium`s topic by keynote speakers from various continents were delivered in the main session by Jim Parry (Great Britain), John MacAloon (USA), Nelson Schneider Todt (Brazil), Koichi Wada (Japan), and Marion Keim (South Africa).


The main part of the symposium with its keynote speeches was expanded by panels which opened the possibility for other academics to present their research results linked with the overall topic of the symposium. This possibility was welcomed as many speakers delivered speeches on short papers which were all interesting for the audience. The Round Table was the final point of the program. The discussions challenged all participants to continue with considerations and initiatives on how Coubertin’s core approach to an educationally orientated sport can be adapted to the complexity of today’s world of sport. The discussion on this has not been finalized but has made its way to the academic community after the symposium. The conference proceedings edited by Stephan Wassong, Norbert Müller and Jean-Loup Chappelet have been published in 2016.