By Mike Rowbottom |
The official line following this week’s record sale of the original Olympic Games manifesto – for a sum faster, higher and stronger than eight million dollars – is this: “The identity of the document’s buyer was not disclosed.”
So where is this historic document that was agonised over and re-worked into its finishing form by the founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin?
There is only one place it should be – within the International Olympic Committee’s archives.
But you can only conclude that it was not the IOC that laid out a small fortune for this template of its own being.
Otherwise, surely, it would be publicizing the fact? The indications are that they are not the new owners.
I put the matter to a friend of mine who is an expert on Olympic history, and they too expressed surprise that the IOC had not made its position clear vis-à-vis this formative document.
Has it been bought by a wealthy benefactor, who will present it with a flourish to the founding organization at an appropriate moment? Will it surface in a sporting museum somewhere other than Lausanne?
Or will it merely remain in some bank vault?
The 5,000-word Olympic Games Manifesto was expected to fetch between $700,000 (£535,000/€630,000) to $1 million (£770,000/€900,000) when it went up for auction last Wednesday at Sotheby’s in New York City. But after a 12-minute, three-way bidding war, the item was sold to an unidentified buyer for $8,806,500 (£6,764,543/€7,916,191). The identity of the vendor also remained undisclosed.
The documents were lost during the First and Second World Wars but, NBC News reported, were eventually recovered by a French nobleman, the Marquis d’Amat, who had located them in the possession of a collector in Switzerland.
The manifesto consists of 14 pages hand-written by Coubertin, who presented his argument for the re-establishment of the Olympic Games at the fifth annual meeting of the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA) in 1892, which was held at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris.
Coubertin asserted that the world needed a “return to Olympian ideals” in time for the new century.
“It is clear that the telegraph, railways, the telephone, the passionate research in science, congresses and exhibitions have done more for peace than any treaty or diplomatic convention,” Coubertin wrote in the manifesto.
“Well, I hope that athletics will do even more. Those who have seen 30,000 people running through the rain to attend a football match will not think that I am exaggerating.
“Let us export rowers, runners and fencers; this is the free trade of the future, and the day that it is introduced into the everyday existence of old Europe, the cause of peace will receive new and powerful support.”
Powerful words, and a powerful vision. But as it turned out on that day in Paris, the response from the USFSA was polite rather than enthusiastic. Reports indicate that those present were more concerned with their own particular issues and preoccupations. Plus ca change…
Coubertin had to paddle hard to maintain his Olympic idea. It was formally presented and adopted at a Congress held at the Sorbonne on June 23 in 1894, although only in tandem with proposals to deal with the pressing issue of the time regarding the threat to amateurism within sport.
The Olympic movement was officially born on that day, and Demetrius Vikelas was established as the first President of the IOC that was then instituted and set in motion.
The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens two years later.
The auction price reached last Wednesday (December 18) was the highest ever paid for a piece of sports memorabilia, surpassing the $5.4 million (£4.1 million/€4.8 million) bid made earlier this year for the New York Yankees jersey owned by baseball legend Babe Ruth.
The jersey in question had been in the possession of a private owner for 30 years – and the current owner is “undisclosed.” Excellent.
As such, the Ruth shirt, with its Spalding label and name embroidered into the inside collar, is lost to the world. It is just a chip in an investment game, to be played again at an opportune moment.
But unlike a shirt that was worn by Babe Ruth, the Olympic Manifesto is ultimately an expression of something intangible – a summation of the Olympic spirit.
As such, its deepest meaning transcends the physical form it takes. So while the original, with all its odd marks, and crossings-out and re-workings, is a timelessly fascinating record of a work in progress, a faithful rendition of the document still holds immense value.
Three years ago, on Olympic Day, I visited the very room in the Sorbonne where the Olympic idea had been posited, and then created – the Salle Greard.
Standing in this moderately-sized wood-panelled room I found it hard to fathom the passions that must have flowed through it on that summer’s day exactly 122 years earlier.
Did the 31-year-old Coubertin, his handlebar moustache yet to take on the grey of age, glance occasionally at the Salle Greard’s assymetric stained glass windows of pale lemon and mauve as he attempted to shape the delegates into acceptance of the vision that had been growing in his mind since he had read Tom Brown’s Schooldays, that paean to muscular Christianity, as a teenager and concluded that “organised sport can create moral and social strength”?
In his closing address to the Congress, Coubertin was exultant.
“In this year, 1894, and in this city of Paris, whose joys and anxieties the world shares so closely that it has been likened to the world’s nerve centre, we were able to bring together the representatives of international athletics, who voted unanimously for the restitution of a 2,000-year-old idea, which today, as in the past, still quickens the human heart,” he told delegates.
“I lift my glass to the Olympic idea, which has traversed the mists of the ages like an all-powerful ray of sunlight and returned to illumine the threshold of the twentieth century with a gleam of joyous hope.”
Yes. It is the sunlight that is valuable. Beyond price.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.