The Tokyo Olympics are about to start. On Friday (23), the opening ceremony of the 32nd edition of the event takes place, which takes place in this format we have known since 1896, when the Olympic Flame was lit for the first time in Athens, Greece.
But you may have heard that these are the Olympic Games of the Modern Era, right? This is because the real origin of the greatest sporting event in the world is Greek mythology, from many centuries before Christ. And the story that unfolded thereafter, throughout all this time, is equally emblematic, involving religions, wars, entrepreneurship, political disputes and, of course, lots of money.
Who invented the Olympic Games?
The Olympic Games of the Modern Era, as we know it today, was created by Baron de Coubertin, a French historian, in 1894. At the time, some archaeological discoveries in the ruins of Olympia, Greece, increased international interest in this previously forgotten tradition. . With an eye on that, Coubertin organized an international congress in Paris to propose the holding of an event similar to what happened in the past. It was the foundation of the International Olympic Committee, which two years later, organized the first edition of the Games – and it does so until today.
In the beginning, the Olympic Games were not the success they were to become in the future. As it was a novelty, the first edition of the modern era was a success (both in relation to the number of international athletes and the public), but the following ones, in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904), did not have much prominence, precisely because they were included in the schedule of World Exhibitions – events that brought together the great minds and novelties of the time. It was only after the extraordinary edition of 1906, in Athenas, that the Games again attracted the attention of the general public.
Before the “Modern Era”, what were the Olympic Games like?
Among these archaeological finds found at Olympia were inscriptions on the winners of a foot race held every four years from 776 BC, reproducing the practice of the gods of mythology in their worship. This date is taken as the official start of Olympic competitions. It was a time of many wars between the different kingdoms of Greece and it is estimated that, at that time, the kings sealed a summer truce, which would be celebrated with the Olympic Games. Hence the idea that the Olympics are a celebration of peace between peoples.
But the inspiration for the Games came from mythology, whose narratives show that the gods competed against each other in race events and, for victory, were crowned with olive branches.
When and why did the ancient Olympics end?
The death of Greek king Alexander the Great in 323 BC marked the beginning of a transition period between the expansion of Greek civilization and the domination of all that territory by the Roman Empire. As Rome advanced, wars and conflicts occurred and the “sacred truce” signed by the kings was being forgotten.
There is no consensus, but the most accepted date as the end of the Games of Antiquity is 393 AD, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (the same one who defined Christianity as the official religion of the empire) determined the extinction of all practices and cults pagans – including the Games, after all, they were a tribute to gods who had nothing to do with Christianity.
Olympics, Olympics, Olympics… What’s the right name?
Going straight to the point, Olympiad is a unit of measure equivalent to four full years. And “Olympic Games” is the name of the event that celebrates the opening of each of these periods. The Tokyo Games, for example, mark the first year of the 32nd Olympics, which ends on December 31, 2023. Finally, the Olympics, in the plural, designates the set of editions of the Games, also including the winter ones.
Who runs the Olympics? And who pays for it?
At the national level, each country has its own Olympic Committee to organize its participation in the Games. Each of the Olympic sports also has its own International Federation, which defines the rules for sporting practices and guarantees that they will be adhered to. All these bodies report to the International Olympic Committee, an entity based in Switzerland and responsible for the administration and organization of the Games – in addition to holding all trademark rights relating to them.
This point is precisely the most controversial in the history of the Olympics when it comes to money. In 1956, the Games began to be broadcast on TV all over the world and, as of 1972, the event started to have the sponsorship of brands. These two fronts are, to date, the IOC’s biggest revenues, which, as the holder of the rights related to the Olympics, centralizes all this money. The costs of hosting the Games, however, always remain with the host cities and their respective national governments. In other words: countries pay for everything, and the IOC keeps the profits. Hence the controversy.
Besides 2020, were there any other times when the Olympics were postponed?
Yes. The Games of 1916 (in Berlin), 1940 (in Tokyo) and 1944 (in London) even started to be organized, but were canceled because of the First and Second World Wars.