The French National Olympic and Sports Committee: A History of the Institutionalization of Sport and Olympism, 1908-1975

By Grosset, Yoan; Attali, Michael | Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

The French National Olympic and Sports Committee: A History of the Institutionalization of Sport and Olympism, 1908-1975


Grosset, Yoan, Attali, Michael, Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies


Ever since Pierre de Coubertin announced, on a winter night of 1892 in Paris, the revival of the Olympic Games, (2) the Olympic Movement has continually organized itself and expanded. (3) Gradually, a system consisting of various organizations agreeing to abide by the Olympic Charter and acknowledging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established. Among these organizations, International Sports Federations (ISFs) whose sports were organized in the Olympic Games, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the Olympic Games Organization Committees (OGOCs) worked as extensions of the Olympic action and as the very structures on which its development was based. (4)

Most studies have dealt with an analysis of the Olympic ideology through its symbolic events, (5) or the history of the IOC and of the ISF. (6) Little research has focused on the NOCs. However, these committees may be considered as the IOC's national vectors and in that respect, NOCs have played a significant part in the organization and the expansion of the Olympic spirit. Selecting athletes, taking initiatives so as to organize international events, creating connections with sports-related authorities on a national level may exemplify a few of their actions. As a result, the NOC allowed the Olympic organization to partake in a national dynamic which in return provided the international visibility essential to its development. Dialectics were then established between the IOC and the NOC so as to ensure their perpetuity, thus rendering them interdependent in the long run. As a result, more and more precise competence and intervention fields were established. With respect to its Olympic Charter, these fields eventually gave way to tensions between the IOC and national organizations which, in turn, suffered from pressure from the authorities or from the industrial and commercial sphere. (7)

Based on a variety of oral and written sources, (8) this study aims at detailing the history of the French Olympic Committee (FOC). It intends to shed light on the interlinkages of various national and international levels between 1908--the date of creation of the National Sports Committee (NSC)--and 1975, when the French State acknowledged the place and the role of French National Olympic and Sports Committee (FNOSC) through the Mazeaud Act of 29 October 1975.

The approach used in this work, as well as its object of study, is new, and thus it opens new fields of research. In fact, studies taking into account all national and international actors in Olympic policies remain scarce. Such studies as do exist are based on the results of research analyzing the IOC vertically. (9) Our work analyzes Olympism horizontally. This approach consists in analyzing simultaneous interactions: on the one hand between the NOCs and the main actors of the Olympic movement (IOC and ISFs), and on the other, between the latter and the various actors of the French Olympic and sports policies (the State, the French Olympic and sports movement). This perspective sets the NOCs not only as organizations to which the IOC delegates were responsible, but also as particular entities, able to adapt and to influence national and international sports and Olympic politics.

1908-1925: The Olympic Organization Serves the Nation

Agreeing with Coubertin to renovate the Modern Olympic Games, the Union of French Athletic Sports Associations (UFASA) united some federations or national associations dealing with sports as early as 1901. Under the name Union French Sports Federations, (10) it aimed at creating a union between sports federations. This was to result in visibility and power of action which would have an impact on a national and international level. Nonetheless, this project initiated by Frantz Reichel, (11) then UFASA's first secretary, appeared to be much more ambitious.

In the wake of the French State's centralist politics, also known as "Jacobine," (12) this federative organ intended to establish an organizational and political frame, common to the whole French sports movement. …

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