Olympism  and  Racism


The idea of “racial superiority and its predetermination” which, according to Coubertin, originated in ancient Greece, (43) is one of the corner stones of modern Olympism. Speaking about Coubertin’s colonialism and racism, Boulongne  says: “The conquering of new colonies is, in his view, based on the principle of the divine right, that is to say, on the conviction that human races are different with respect to their value and that to the white race, which is by nature above other races, all other races should be subordinated.” (44) And he continues: “Claiming that no one has the right to undertake the Europeanization of other peoples, that etnical religions are equal in value to the Christian religion, that the member of the black or yellow race differs from the white man, but that as a man he is of the same value – these are all”, says Coubertin, “nice sophisms, the validity of which is defended in smoking parlours, but of no value whatsoever, nor efficacy: they represent a paradox associated with a decadence, and they can for an instant bring a smile on our face, but they should never be adopted as a rule of conduct.” (45) It is not the “devine”, but the “natural law”, based on the “might is right”, which is the basis of Coubertin’s racism. Keeping to Social Darwinist evolutionism, Coubertin comes to the conclusion that in its fight for survival the white race has become “the purest, the strongest and the most intelligent” (46) race, which means that “lower races” are by virtue of their genetic (physical and intellectual) properties predetermined to submit to the white “dominant race”. It follows that  members of the “coloured races” originally do not have any civil or human rights: their “rights” originate from the interests of colonial metropoles and self-willedness of their masters. Coubertin does not try to hide that: “The theory proposing that all human races have equal rights leads to a line of policy which hinders any progress in the colonies. Without debasing itself, surely, by imposing slavery, or even a lighter form of serfdom, the superior race is fully entitled to deny the lower race certain privileges of civilized life”. (47) The relation of Coubertin to South-African slave-owning and racist regime shows the extent of Coubertin’s respect for human and civil rights of the “lower races”. Wishing to justify the inhuman exploitation of the African natives by the white minority, Coubertin writes: “Do not forget the regime under which the South-African mines developed. (…) There is nothing that approaches slavery more than the institution there? But it does not hurt human dignity at all, being English, of course!” (48)

Coubertin is strongly opposed to the white people mixing with the “lower races”, since, according to him, it leads to their degeneration. “The fight for the pureness of (the white) race remains the basic aim of its members”-  Coubertin points out. (49) The racial “pureness” of the Hellenic race is its most important feature and it constitutes the origin of the racial power and persistence of the Hellenes. Coubertin follows in Chemberlain’s footsteps: “Human races are, in fact, different in regard to their character, properties, and above all, their individual capabilities, in the same way as a greyhound, bulldog, poodle and the dog of the New Land differ. – Does not every race have its brilliant and incomparable physiognomy? How could Hellenic art have arisen without the Hellenes? …There is nothing so convincing as the awareness of the quality of a race. A man belonging to a pure and definite race, will never lose the awareness of it. The guarding angel of its tree is always on his side, supporting him whenever he loses his balance, warning him whenever he is in danger of getting lost, compelling him to obediance and making him perform feats he would otherwise never have dared to undertake, since he considers them impossible. The race raises man above itself; it arms him with extraordinary – even unnatural – powers. That the quality of a race is of vital importance – it is the fact of immediate experience.” (50) Coubertin, like Gobineau (51) and Chamberlain, (52) call upon the whites not to allow their blood to be polluted by the blood of the “lower races”, including the Jews whom Coubertin proclaimed the “Asians”. The importance Coubertin attaches to racial blood is best seen from his commentary on the Jewish people in his “Histoire universelle”: “Some authors, on the other hand, note that we should not speak about the Jewesh race, since the Jews, dispersed in the course of eighteen centuries all over the world, have mixed with other peoples so much that they have lost the properties that make a race. It is a wrong view. It is true that through faith as well as through propaganda many ethnic elements are connected with the Izraeli religion. But the original strength of Jewesh blood is so great that several drops will suffice to conquer the home.” With respect to Coubertin’s previous claims that the Jews “deep in their hearts remained the Asians”, that they are “cruel and persistant as regards acquiring,” “clever and shrewd in business” and that their role in history is “insignificant” – it is clear that mixing with them would lead to the degeneration of the white race. (53) Here we should note that Coubertin had published these lines some ten years before the Nazis passed their “Racial laws” (September 15, 1935) banning marriages between the Germans and the Jews.

Unlike the Nazis, Coubertin does not call on eliminating the “lower races”, but from his conception of the “natural selection” it follows that the “master race” has a “natural right” to do everything in its interest, including the genocide over other peoples and races. Just as the right of people to life is subordinated to the right of the ruling order to a stable development, so is the right of the “lower races” to life subordinated to the right of the “superior race” to survival. Conquering the “life space” is the legitimate right of the white race based on the dominant order in the animal world – of which the human society is just a part. It is one of the reasons why Coubertin does not criticize the British Empire for its genocidal practice in North America, Australia, China, Africa and India, nor the Nazis who do not hide that the extermination of the Jews, Slavs and Gypsies and conquering the “life space” (Lebensraum) is for the “Aryan over-race” their most important task.

If Coubertin’s theory of evolution is correct, which means that the white race in its fight for survival has become the “purest, the most intelligent and the strongest”, than the victory of the representatives of the “lower races” over the best representatives of the “master race” on a sports field is not possible. The Olympic Games which allow the participation of the “lower races” can only be a demonstration of the “racial superiority” of the whites. The events on sports fields, even during Coubertin’s life, have convincingly demonstrated the unsoundness of Coubertin’s racial conception and his Social Darwinist theory. For, in addition to physical (muscular) strength of those who have “come from the jungle” and therefore represent “unfair competition” (Hitler), (54) what is important is the will to win, the main ingrediant of the “will to power”, which, according to Coubertin, is the exclusive feature of the white bourgeois ”elite”. The maxim mens sana in corpore sano, especially Coubertin’s maxim mens fervida in corpore lacertoso, speak in favour of the “fact” that the “blacks” have a stronger spirit and personality then the whites. We should not forget that for  Coubertin boxing embodies the fundamental principle of capitalist society – “struggle for life” – and is thus the chief means for upbringing the bourgeois youth. (55) However, it is precisely in boxing – which for Coubertin is a “fine manly sport”, where the main characteristics of the “master race”: will to win, quick decision making, “steel agility” (Hitler), persistance and courage are most expressed – that indisputable domination of “black” sportsmen has been established.

If the “facts” from the sports field are analyzed according to Coubertin’s eugenetic conception, which even in Coubertin’s time clearly suggested the trends in the development of sport, we come to the following conclusions: first, the development of civilization according to the principle of natural selection has not led to a physical “superiority” of the white race over the “coloured” races, but opposite; second, the “pureness” of the white race has not led to its improvement, but to its degeneration; and third, mixing between the whites and the blacks leads to the improvement of the genetic properties of the whites and to the weakening of the genetic properties of the blacks. Bearing in mind that for Coubertin the Olympic winners represent the “elite” of mankind, and are thus the representatives of religio athletae, which is a symbolic expression of the dominant spirit of capitalism embodied in the white “master race”, the paradox is complete: the representatives of the “lower races” become the bearers of the “victorious spirit” by which the “superiority” of the white race is proved! If we add that for Coubertin the “improvement” of the white race is the basic sign of “progress”, it is clear that Coubertin’s theory of evolutionary progressism definately comes to nothing. In his racial theory, the constant conflict in Coubertin’s theory between evolutionism, which gives rise to apriorism, and positivism, which insists on “respecting the facts”, reaches its climax.

One of the largest inconsistances in Coubertin’s racial conception lies in his proclaiming the struggle for survival, dominant in the animal world, the pattern of behaviour which should be predominant in human society, while at the same time he denies the “lower races” the right to fight for survival: by Coubertin’s racial theory the “universal” fight for survival is transformed into the privilage of the white race to dominate the “coloured races” for ever. Here also Coubertin applied a model used in determining the social position of the bourgeoisie and workers (women): in the course of evolution, the white race has acquired the qualities of a beast, while the “coloured races” acquired the qualities of a ruminant. From there follows that the natural right of a wolf is to devour the sheep, while the natural “obligation” of the sheep is not to oppose the wolf. Coubertin did not strive to include the “coloured races” through sport into the struggle for domination, but to use sport as a means of their indisputable integration into the “world (colonial) order” in which the supremacy of the “higher (white) race” is permanently established. He is not in favour of giving the right to the representatives of other races to participate, on an equal basis, with the representatives of the white race, but in favour of the dominant white “elite” giving the right to the “lower races” to participate on the sports field with their masters. It is the act of “mercy” (la charité) of the “master race” which, eventually, should discourage the submitted peoples from their liberative struggle and preserve the colonial order. Coubertin claims that sport is an “efficient” means for colonizing the “lower races” – giving as a model the British colonial domination in India. Speaking about the need to spread sport among the “natives”, Coubertin concludes: “Sport is on the whole a powerful instrument for disciplining. It produces all types of positive social qualities, health, hygiene, tidiness, self-control.” (57) Sport becomes the means of creating a submissive conscious in colonized peoples and a way of their integration into the spiritual orbit of their master at the level of “cultivated” slaves. It is no accident that Coubertin finds in Catholic “missions” the model for a spiritual colonization of “lower races”. Efficiant subordination of the workers and “lower races”, and not “love of sport”, is the fundamental principle of Coubertin’s Olympic philosophy. “The Olympic pacifism” means that colonized peoples have for ever renounced both the struggle for liberating themselves from colonial domination, and the struggle against the white race, namely, that the struggle between “master” (white) race and “lower races” is transfered onto the sports field, where it takes on the form of the “equality of chances”, by which the established “world order” is not changed but strengthened. It marks the end of evolution, based on the struggle between races, and starts a new era in the development of mankind, which consists in its “perfectioning” and is based on “peace” and “cooperation between races”. The newly-established “Olympic counting of time” points to the “fact” that the white race has definately conquered the world and that presents both the end of history and the end of imagening the future in which all people, regardless of their racial and social origin, will be free and equal. Coubertin supports the Nazi regime because he sees in it the strength capable of creating a complete and final domination of the white (European) race over the “lower races” and establishing “eternal peace”. Coubertin is congenial to Hitler’s “pacifistic” view from “Mein Kampf”: “Indeed, the pacifistic-humanistic idea can be good only when a virtuous man conquers the world and submits it to such an extent that he becomes the only master of the globe.” (58) The Nazis went even further than Coubertin: their proclaimed goal was not only to establish “eternal peace”, but to establish an order in which “all peoples in the world will be happy”! (59)

The contradiction of Coubertin’s conception is that “educating” the subjects to respect the order ruled by the strong assumes that the winners on the sports field are the whites, and not the representatives of the “lower races”, or else sport becomes the means for dispelling the myth about the white race being the “master race” and the instrument for developing the conscious of resistance in people deprived of their rights. That Coubertin is aware of this danger is clearly seen from his warning the colonial authorities to allow the “natives” only those sports which do not contribute to the development of national conscious and jeopardize the authority of the colonial power. (60) Bearing in mind that propagating sport among the “lower races” and giving them the opportunity to compete with their masters on the sports field is but a part of the colonial strategy of the “master race”, it is clear that Coubertin does not advocate the spreading of sport among the “lower races” at all costs, but only if the “superior race” can use it to secure its dominant position. Accepting the defeat on the sports field is a neccessary evil – as long as sport contributes to the persistence of the colonial power. It is a necessary tactical move in order to achieve the strategic aim: to destroy the libertarian conscious of the “lower races” and integrate them into a global colonial order. That it is a temporary move can be seen from Coubertin’s eugenetic theory. Giving the “right” to the “lower races” to participate on the sports field with the “superior (white) race” does not lead to the “perfectioning” of the “master race”, but to its weakening. Was Coubertin not actually striving for Hitler’s model of the Olympic Games, where only the representatives of the “higher race” would be allowed to compete? Considering Coubertin’s original Olympic idea, according to which the Olympic Games are a contest between “civilized nations”, as well as the fact that in the ancient racist Olympic Games he saw an indisputable model for “his” Olympic Games, it is clear that Coubertin’s wish that the Nazis should be the executors of his Olympic legacy and the guardians of his Olympic ideal has a more profound sense.

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