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Why is French the official language of the Olympics?

No other event can be compared to the Olympics. It brings the world together every four years in celebration of cultural diversity, and today we are going to talk a bit about the relationship between them and France.

Let us remember that the history of the Olympic games can be divided into two parts:

The Olympic games of the past

olympic games of the past

Their name comes from a city. They were first held in the Greek city of Olympia. The greatest athletes from every ancient Greek city-state and kingdom congregated in this city every four years to compete in honor of Zeus, one of the Greek gods. The importance of the Olympic Games caused wars and disputes between city-states and kingdoms to cease at that time, and the multiple disciplines were shown in several works of art, including Myron's Discobolus.

The first Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece, in 776 BC, which is where this tale begins. An olive tree crown serves as the athletes' reward. The Roman emperor Teodisio I suspended them eleven centuries later because he views them as a heathen display.

The modern Olympic games

olympic flag

Baron Pierre de Coubertin proposed the idea for the current Olympic Games in 1894 at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Under the slogan "citius, altius, fortius" ("faster, higher, stronger"), the Frenchman urges for the event to be made worldwide. With the help of 15 nations, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established on June 24, 1894. The Athens Games were planned for 1896, with the Greek Demetrios Bikelas serving as president and Coubertin serving as secretary.

241 athletes (all males) competed in 43 events in 10 disciplines in this maiden edition, representing 14 nations. James Connoly (America) is the first Olympic champion in the triple jump event in more than 1500 years. In the open ocean, swimming events take place. A silver medal, a laurel wreath, and a diploma are the rewards that are given out. The Greek marathon runner Spiridon Louis stands out as the key character of the inaugural Games.

The distance traveled (40 kilometers) is the same one that the soldier Philipides had travelled in 490 BC from Mount Marathon to Athens after winning the race designed at the historian Michel Breal's request. The Greeks, who had not previously had successful outcomes, are given the illusion once more. Only Louis is recognized as a national hero in the end. Press coverage of the event is essentially non-existent.

Paris 1900

Why is French the official language of the Olympics?

With this illusion, the second modern Olympic games were planned four years later. The Greeks complied since they believed the Games belonged to them and should only be conducted on their turf (one Athenian newspaper said Mr. Coubertin was a robber for wanting the Games to be staged in places that are not Greek). 19 women will compete in Paris. Tennis player Charlotte Cooper from England is the first of them to win the title. 

They are peculiar Games due to the variety of sports that are played as well as the fact that they last for five months (from May 24 to October 28) and are held in the French capital as a part of the Universal Exhibition. There are a variety of sports included, including football, gymnastics, and rowing. Years after the events, some athletes will still be waiting for their medals.

There are noticeably more athletes competing: 1,225 competitors (1,206 males) from 24 nations are vying for 95 medals in 16 sports. The Seine River hosts swimming competitions. It has been a marvel that the Olympic movement has survived these Games, Coubertin noted after the event.

French as the first official language of the Olympics

french as olympic language

These Olympic games create a connection between Greece and France. Since the initiative was from Coubertin, who was IOC president between 1896 and 1925, and was involved in setting the rules for many of the disciplines, even creating the iconic Olympic rings, French is considered the first of the 3 official languages of the Olympic games.

More significantly, it was regarded as the diplomatic language at the time the IOC was founded. Since 1915, the IOC has also had a presence in Lausanne, a French-speaking city in Switzerland, on the banks of Lake Geneva. These elements combine to make French the first official language. Since it’s the first official language, French takes precedence over any other languages used in announcements or communications related to the Olympic Games.

The International Francophone Organization (IFO) and the IOC collaborate to promote the French language in addition to making French the first official language of the Olympics. Every winter and summer Olympic session receives a French-speaking ambassador from the IFO in order to accomplish this. The ambassador promotes the French language and culture and ensures that translations and interpretations are of the highest calibre, even going so far as to support the teaching of French in local schools.

The other two official languages of the Olympic games are English and the language of the host nation, in that order.

Paris 1924

It’s important to remember that Paris has hosted the Olympic games also in 1924. That year, the Olympics are held in Paris once more, this time to celebrate Baron Pierre de Coubertin's retirement and the election of Henri de Baillet-Latour as his successor. With 3,092 competitors (2,956 men and 136 women) competing in 126 events, there are 44 participating countries, up from 29 previously. The custom of hoisting the flags of the IOC, the organizing nation, and the following host is established for the closing ceremony.

Paris 2024

It’s important to remember all of this because Paris will host once more the Olympic games in 2024, 100 years after the last time. This will make Paris the city that has hosted the Olympic games the most, alongside London (1908, 1948, and 2012). Of course, preparations to host the Olympics started a while ago, and if you are visiting Paris soon, you’ll see that some of its monuments are going through an upgrade to be ready for the show. Are you planning to go to Paris for the Olympic games? Let us know!

Written by Alejandro Ramirez G

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