Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Lex Olympica: From the Inter-State Ancient Greek Law to the Rules of Participation in the Modern Olympic Games

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Lex Olympica: From the Inter-State Ancient Greek Law to the Rules of Participation in the Modern Olympic Games

Article excerpt


The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions.

The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world's fore-most sports competition where more than 200 nations participate.

The Ancient Olympic Games were a series of competitions held between representatives of several city-states and kingdoms from Ancient Greece.

A. Olympic Interstate Ancient Greek law

In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games followed a parallel path to other institutions such as the State and the Law. It can be said that during the mentioned period, they included the Law as a new concept in the City-State, where the Law was not defined by one person, the king, but was shaped by the idea of justice for the masses. It was subject to the people and was protected by Divine Justice, particularly by Zeus, the God-Protector of justice.

In the classical period, the elementary unit in the City-State was the citizen; that is the individual who forms the functions and sets the institutions, who establishes the State. This was a democratic State under the rule of a Law which had passed from the temples of the sacred sites to the temples of the State. The People's Assembly was the body in which citizens participated and where the concept of justice was beginning to take form (1). It seems that the Greek Customary Law, dating from prehistoric and historic times, exerted a strong influence on this new concept.

Plato deals with the citizen in whom the idea of justice prevails, not only in relation to himself but also in relation to others. This was competition in the social arena, where the citizen should be fair. This model was displayed in competition and particularly in the morals of the Olympic Games through the athletic virtue of modesty. That means the individual's internal disposition, allowing him to realize the fair and the unfair in competitive effort in the stadium and, by extension, on the social level. The lack of a measure of modesty and of the limits set by the Gods was viewed as an insult and contempt of common feeling. Justice punishes this insult, satisfying the gods and re-establishing the order of things (2).

Thus, the "common standards of Greeks" and the "legitimate standards of all humans" were understood as sources of interstate and inter-Hellenic - international law in the sacred places of ancient Greece, such as Delphi, Olympia, Nemea and the Isthmus (3). At that time, an athlete was no more than the figure of the citizen of the City-State trying to prove this modesty through athletic competition on the difficult road to victory in the Olympic Stadium and seeking the favour of gods. This victory in noble Olympic competition was rewarded as a virtue and sanctioned by an olive branch. The concept of justice serving this idea of the members of the "city" in relation to Law became the example of virtue, the aim of every citizen in order to be "good and virtuous" on which a well - governed City - State could rely.

According to this verse, the notion of justice was highly developed among members of a society that was organised into a State during the particular period, while the building of the new classical civilization of the ancient world was erected on this foundation of the common notion of justice in the sense of individual virtue. Law incorporated the entire set of the rules of behaviour based on the customs and habits and the notion of justice that were instituted by the State authorities. "Law is the king of all, both mortal and immortal" (4).

This notion of Law in the Olympic Games in the course of their evolution and in particular during the development phase of interstate relations in Ancient Greece, established an interstate system of Law which affected the games on the basis of the interstate-international characteristics of Hellenic Law in classical antiquity. …

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