Humanism and the
Spectacle of ‘Race’
It is the rule now that no one can take part in the Olympic Games other than as a representative of his own country. This is a first step, for previously the nationality of competitors had not always been taken into account, but merely their technical qualities. A fundamental article of the general regulations drawn up in 1894 reserves the right of the organising committees to reject any candidate whose character or previous record of conduct might reflect injuriously upon the dignity of the institution. We must establish the tradition that each competitor shall in his bearing and conduct as a man of honour and a gentleman endeavour to prove in what respect he holds the Games and what an honour he feels to participate in them … Such is my view of the development which ought to take place in the institution of the modern Olympic Games … The work must be lasting, to exercise over the sports of the future that necessary and beneficent influence for which I look – an influence which shall make them the means of bringing to perfection the strong and hopeful youth of our white race, thus again helping towards the perfection of all human society.
Pierre de Coubertin, ‘Why I Revived the Olympic Games’, 1908 (emphasis added)
This chapter addresses a number of issues relating to the ideological content of Olympism and the extent to which it can usefully function as a progressive set of ideals and practices in our current climate of late capitalist, postcolonial modernity. I am interested in the interrelationship and articulation between ‘humanism’, ‘Olympism’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’ as discourses, ideologies and political projects. I want to explore the extent to which sport, and in particular the Olympics, makes possible moments when we are able to transcend our seemingly natural identity skins of racial ascription and national belonging. I am also interested in mapping how sport continues to shape and frame our understandings of ourselves as embodied social agents and the potentially