Olympic Institute Lausanne

Stephan Wassong

Pierre de Coubertin re-established the Olympic Games with the mission that the educational values, which sport was believed to develop, should not be experienced by the Olympic athletes alone. The Olympic Games and the athletes as role models should encourage citizens across all age groups and social classes to engage in sport in their leisure time. This was perceived necessary to link the Olympic idea with society and its future-oriented development. A prerequisite of this was the sufficient availability of a public sporting infrastructure for the public. Of course, Coubertin was aware of this and thought of developing opportunities to match these needs.


According to Coubertin the Olympic Games were only the framework for the realisation of an educational mission built on the development of moral values, transcultural tolerance and social responsibility. One idea was the revival of the ´ancient gymnasium´ in the sense of a communal sport centre. In modern times ancient gymnasiums should become places which city people of all social classes could attend free of charge. It was Coubertin`s opinion that these gymnasiums were not only institutions for improving one`s health and fitness but also training centres for democracy, morality and hygiene. Visitors of all social classes should mingle in the modern gymnasium to practice democratic behaviour by preparing for and participating in sport together. Coubertin did not want to present a prescribed catalogue of behavioural rules. The sporting situation itself should make evident the positive influence of sport on physical, intellectual and social vitality.


In order to support the establishment of such communal sport centres Coubertin founded ´The Olympic Institute´ in Lausanne in the in the winter of 1916/17. Its aim was not only to propagate the idea of communal sport centres, but to serve as a best practice example at the same time. Its motto was mens fervida in corpore lacertos.

Navacelle Collection

The municipality of Lausanne offered Coubertin a room in the Casino of Montbenon, which had gone bankrupt in 1912 and since then was used for meetings and events of the local societies. Coubertin published an article on the Olympic Institute in Lausanne in the Gazette Lausanne on 14th October 1901.


“Alongside the International Olympic Committee, but in complete independence of it, there is the Olympic Institute of Lausanne., a much more recent establishment run by a smaller group, comprised almost exclusively of natives of Canton Vaud. Its goal is to revive the ancient gymnasium. Once that institution is modernized, it should become a focal point of civic spirit and the heart of the community, a factory of social peace.”[1]


A first workshop with theoretical lessons and physical activities took place in spring 1917. The target group consisted of French and Belgian military detainees. Unfortunately, the Olympic Institute did not survive the end the First World War. It was the only initiative of that kind.

Teachers and participants of the first workshop in 1917.
Navacelle Collection

Other municipalities than the one in Lausanne were not open for this project idea and in many cases did not even consider it in discussions. Probably because of this negative result, once again Coubertin tried to promote the idea of the revival of the ancient gymnasium. He did it at the 8th Olympic Congress which was held in Prague from 29th May to 4th June 1925. It was the last Olympic Congress under Coubertin`s presidency. Actually, the gathering in Prague consisted of two separate congress. One was announced as the ´Technical Olympic Congress´ and the second one as ´Pedagogical Olympic Congress´. As to the latter, the programme contained nine topics of which the fifth topic was dealing with the revival of the ancient gymnasium. But again, no practical initiatives were taken up to support the re-launch of the concept.



[1] Coubertin quoted in: International Olympic Committee (Editing Director: Norbert Müller): Pierre de Coubertin 1863 – 1937. Olympism Selected Writings. Lausanne 2000, 722.