Philip Barker

This week in Lausanne, Thomas Bach marked his re-election for a final, four-year term as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President by suggesting the addition of the word "Together" to the Olympic motto.

The original - "Faster Higher Strong" - had been adopted by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who made a similar call for Olympic togetherness at the IOC Session held in Lausanne 100 years ago.

"The situation called above all for a declaration of unity," he said before beginning his own final four years in charge.

President since 1896, he was keen to step down, but in 1921 was worried by the immediate future of the Olympic Movement and engineered the choice of not one but two future host cities.

Coubertin justified what he later described as the "Lausanne Manoeuvre" because "there was, on top of all the arguments already mentioned, the wish on my part to arrange matters for the near future so that the ensuing stability might help my successor."

This week IOC members have joined the discussions remotely from around the world, but in 1921, around 20 were present in person for meetings held in the Casino Montbenon high above the city, "Which the municipality kindly put at the IOC’s exclusive disposition."

Swiss Confederation President Edmund Schulthess welcomed them back to a city which had been designated Olympic Movement headquarters in 1915.

The Gazette de Lausanne told its readers that there would be, "Either in the halls or the gardens of the casino, sports meetings and musical events to entertain our guests from all over the world."

In the years immediately after the First World War, the Olympics faced threat and uncertainty.

"Since the events of 1901 and 1905 [the transfer of the 1904 and 1908 Games from Chicago to St. Louis and from Rome to London], the IOC had decided to consider only applications that were backed by an already soundly prepared organisation and by serious financial guarantees", Coubertin wrote.

The Casino Montbenon acted as the headquarters of the Olympic Movement 100 years ago ©Philip Barker
The Casino Montbenon acted as the headquarters of the Olympic Movement 100 years ago ©Philip Barker

Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Prague and Kristiania - now known as Oslo - were all potential hosts.

The phrase "targeted dialogue" was not used in 1921, but Coubertin laid the ground with an advance circular.

"The choice of city is of particular importance this time, owing to the fact that the eighth Olympiad will coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of their revival."

He asked "that a special gesture should be made" in favour of his native city, Paris. "At our next meeting I shall appeal to you on this great occasion to sacrifice your preferences and your national interests and agree to award the ninth Olympiad to Amsterdam and proclaim Paris the venue for the eighth."

He arranged for Jiri Guth-Jarkovsky, IOC member for Bohemia, to make the formal proposal.

This immediately shocked the Italians. Reuters news agency had reported how Rome’s candidacy "had many backers".

The minutes record how Carlo Montu, the Italian member, "reacted with some force" against the suggestion.

IOC papers registered four objections to naming two host cities at the same time. These included Count Albert Gautier-Vignal, the IOC member in Monaco.

Guth-Jarkovsky pointed out that there was a precedent. In 1894, Athens for 1896 and Paris for 1900 had been selected at the same time. He seemed to demonstrate a greater awareness of IOC history than Coubertin who asserted that it "had never been done before."

Fourteen were in favour, four opposed it and there was one abstention.

After objections the vote was repeated three times, with the same result. A delighted Coubertin described the coronation of Paris and Amsterdam as a "masterly coup d’etat."

In the Athletic News, "Harefoot" wrote "so far as I can see no better venue can be imagined."

Baron Pierre de Coubertin's likeness is a recurring theme at Olympic House ©Philip Barker
Baron Pierre de Coubertin's likeness is a recurring theme at Olympic House ©Philip Barker

Montu left the Session apparently "embarrassed". This may have been a euphemism for stormed out, we can only guess.

This week’s deliberations have been streamed live across the world, but the 1921 Session was not broadcast or filmed and, to all intents and purposes, took place behind closed doors.

A message came from the United States that if anything went wrong, Los Angeles would be prepared to step in as emergency host.

That it came from afar was because William Milligan Sloane and Judge Bartow Sumpter Weeks, the IOC members in the US, had been unable to attend.

In those days members paid their own expenses. International travel was costly and time-consuming.

IOC vice-president John Coates has been able to follow this week’s debates online, but his 1921 predecessor Richard Coombes was unable to travel from his home in Australia. Apart from newspaper reports, Coombes did not receive full details of what newspapers described as "the great meeting" until weeks, perhaps even months later. Kanō Jigorō remained in Tokyo and Sir Dorabji Tata from India and Enrique Dorn y de Alsúa from Ecuador also sent apologies for absence.

Coubertin paid tribute to his fellow IOC member, Belgium’s Count Henri Baillet-Latour, and the other organisers of the Antwerp Olympics for the "energy consistency and skill" with which they had organised the 1920 Games.

Behind the polite diplomatic language, he harboured concerns about control of the Olympic Movement and what he described as "the threat of secession". Some had even advocated putting the Olympic Games under the control of the recently-formed League of Nations. Although this did not happen, Coubertin wrote: "The real danger lay in the frittering away of the Olympic idea, which risked being brought about by the proliferation of regional games that were the result of the general impatience that seemed to prevail."

He suggested that many were "largely ignorant of Olympic matters and unfamiliar with the spirit of the IOC, those who conceived them and sought to organise them harboured ulterior motives of a nationalistic or a religious character which would only upset the whole movement in the end."

IOC Sessions have changed a lot over the course of a century ©IOC
IOC Sessions have changed a lot over the course of a century ©IOC

Coubertin was more supportive of moves towards a federation of international sports but although discussions took place, Reuters reported that IOC members decided it was "not opportune at the present time."

Many sports were establishing their own dedicated International Federations and athletics, boxing ,swimming and the International Weightlifting and Dumbbell Federation held consultative congresses.

These, said Coubertin, "opened in an atmosphere of goodwill and understanding, which promised well for their results."

The IOC also debated the Olympic programme.

Gymnastic events were expanded and rugby, contested in 1908 and 1920 with very few entrants, became "obligatory". Golf, archery and hockey were all taken off the programme for 1924.

Rugby then lost its place after Paris 1924, but hockey returned in 1928. The return of archery, golf and rugby took rather longer.

There was also a "consultative" congress to discuss winter sport.

Ice skating had been mentioned as "desirable" in 1894. It was included at London 1908 and, with ice hockey, on the programme for Antwerp 1920. But there had been Scandinavian opposition to a full blown Winter Olympics "at any price".

They saw it as a threat to their own "Nordic" Games.

By the 1920s, they were forced to concede that Winter sport had developed in Switzerland and Canada the Scandinavians "could no longer lay claim to the practical monopoly they had exercised for so long."

Agreement was reached for a "Sports Week" on ice and snow in 1924, at the French resort of Chamonix. Only retrospectively was this designated as the first Winter Olympics.

There was also an equestrian congress. Coubertin, an enthusiastic rider, had made great efforts to support it.

"I do not think it was contact with weapons which led man to conceive of sport but rather contact with the horse," he said.

Paris won the 2024 Olympics in a double award ©Getty Images
Paris won the 2024 Olympics in a double award ©Getty Images

Yet he lamented that accessibility was impeded by an "equestrian aristocracy with stiff necked manners." He even suggested that "The knights of the Middle Ages were far less exclusively aristocratic in their ideas on riding than their successors today."

The congress was "recruited by special invitation addressed to the Ministers of War."

This might seem incongruous now but Coubertin pointed out: "It was undoubtedly inevitable because, apart from hunting and polo, sports that are too expensive to be practised by any other than a restricted circle of millionaires, civil equitation always tends to be eclipsed by the military."

Commandant Georges Hector, later to become secretary of a new International Equestrian Federation made a report. It included a suggestion for an equestrian event with horses supplied by the host country in which competitors would draw lots for the horse they were given to ride.

This suggestion was not judged "immediately practicable" but the rest of the report was accepted.

It confirmed the format used in 1912 which had included dressage, show jumping and eventing.

Polo was also retained and would remain until 1936.

There were meetings to discuss artistic competitions, another of Coubertin’s pet projects, and a congress on mountaineering.

Originally proposed in the early days, it was finally adopted after a report from the eminent Swiss climber Jules Jacot-Guillarmod.

It did not mean that climbing would take place during the Games but rather, a prize was to be awarded to the best climb of the four-year Olympiad.

Many might feel that the present day Olympic Movement has conquered mountains of its own in the last year.