Long before mere mortals competed for the highest prize in track and field, it is said that the Greek gods competed in games amongst themselves to impose physical superiority on one another. In the honour of the gods, the tradition was later continued by the flourishing Greek human civilisation who participated in the Ancient Olympic Games apparently for over the next 1200 years (8th Century BC to 4th Century AD).
Whether the great God Zeus actually attended any of the games or his son Herakles won any medals is entwined in myth as much as their very existence. However, what it is forever etched in history books are the Greek civilisation’s cultural, philosophical, architectural and scientific achievements. The thriving economy of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and Sophocles, to name a few, formed a resplendent social structure with public schools, a peerless army and was light years ahead in science and technology in comparison to other dominions of the time.
It was the 67th Roman Emperor Theodosius-I who made Christianity the official state religion and completely shut down the Olympics, sighting its polytheistic roots.
Soon after, Western Europe, under the flagship of Roman Christians, fell into the Dark Ages which were characterised by a total collapse of economic, cultural and social order. The west was to remain under dark shadows for approximately a thousand years before the Italian Renaissance brought back civility into their society. However, it was the Industrial Revolution (1750 – 1850) that transformed Western Europe as the leading socio-economic power of the world again.
Much like everything else, it revived sporting activity as well. Interestingly, Mr. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the Founder of Modern Olympic Games, held the “Meetings of the Olympian Class” in the summer of 1850 in England, the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. This was his first strife in the long run-up to form the International Olympics Committee in 1894 which runs the Games to-date.
Did the cycle of socio-economic welfare that followed the Industrial Revolution strongly influence sport or was the timing of the Ancient Olympics and its modern resurgence coincidental?
The 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was an extravagant affair in the ‘Kingdom’, from the Queen’s arrival with James Bond to the showcase of its rich history where once the sun never set. However, it is the “spirit” of the Olympic Games which burnt the torch brighter than ever. 204 countries were represented by over 10,000 participants spread across 302 events within 26 sporting disciplines.
While the desire to win is inherent in sport, the Olympics traditionally were always about more than just a gold medal. It’s been a stage of opportunity, honour and identity and best explained by its founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."
Football and tennis are sports in which winning medals was not given too much importance until recently. While the increasing importance of medals cannot be undermined, here is a look at countries with maximum participation in true Olympic spirit.
To further test this hypothesis here is a look at the top economies of the world according to the figures published by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) in 2011.