One of the best-known symbols in marketing, let alone world sport, reaches an important milestone this week.
June 2014 marks the centenary of the presentation by Pierre de Coubertin to those attending the sixth Olympic Congress in Paris of the five multicoloured Olympic rings and the Olympic flag.
The symbol of the interlaced blue, yellow, black, green and red rings, representing the five continents, is today recognised instantly by a good proportion of the world’s seven billion or more people.
It was not until 1920 in Antwerp, however, that the white flag bearing the five rings could be seen flying in an Olympic stadium.
This was because of the outbreak later in 1914 of the conflict now known as the First World War; this prevented the 1916 Olympic Games being staged, as planned, in Berlin.
As explained in an Olympic Museum information sheet, the fifth modern Olympics in Stockholm in 1912 had turned out to be the first Games featuring participants from all five continents.
A year later, the five rings appeared at the top of a letter written by Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympics.
According to the information sheet, Coubertin “drew the rings and coloured them in by hand”.
While most today would probably accept that the symbol and flag were the most important products of that 1914 Congress, contemporary newspaper reports suggest that participants were more concerned with burning issues such as the participation of women in the Olympics and the sports that should make up the programme.
One paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, described debate of a motion that women should be allowed to take part in lawn tennis, swimming, skating and foils.
The Times of London carried a short Reuters report to the effect that Congress had decided that future Games should be “decided within three weeks so that the results could be more easily classified, and that due solemnity might be given to the opening and closing ceremonies”.
The report continued, “Although the Congress has already expressed the view that the number of events was too great, it agreed this morning, at the request of various countries, to the inclusion of the following new events: archery, rugby football, hockey and ice hockey.
“These events will, however, be optional.”
While attitudes on some issues change dramatically over time, others, it seems, prove as enduring as the five-ring symbol itself.
This article first appeared in Inside the Games and has been reproduced with permission. The original article can be viewed by clicking here.