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That Time When Artists Competed in the Summer Olympics

That Time When Artists Competed in the Summer Olympics

Kaeley Boyle

Is it time to reintroduce the arts to the Summer Olympics?

Is it time we brought back the arts in the Olympics?

In modern society the arts and athletics don’t sit at the same dinner table. They’re considered to be disciplines with two separate audiences that don’t mingle and couldn’t hold much in common.

This wasn’t the perception of the ancient Greeks or the original mission of the Olympics, however.

The original Olympiad in Greece was a competition that included arts and athletics. An equal playing field that celebrated the best in both.

In 1894, Barron de Coubertin, the founder of the revived Olympics, wanted to recombine art and sport. He proposed bringing back the original vision of the Olympics, which celebrated both muscle and mind.

Celebrating the best of the world’s artistic expression

Between 1912 and 1948, the Summer Olympics brought back medal categories in literature, architecture, painting, music and sculpture. The restrictions on content and the structure of the judging status led to a culture that allowed for those in charge to cut the program.

The jury restricted participants’ artwork to a focus on sport and judges of the arts competition weren’t required to award gold, silver, and bronze in each category. The lack of high level governance left the door open to the committee to cut the programming. Today there is little information written or known about the arts in the olympics, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has removed the awards attributed to the given countries overall medal count.

A gold medal from the 2018 Winter Olympics. [Charles Deluvio on Unsplash]

In 1949, the IOC removed the arts because of the lack of amateur status of the entrants. Until 1978, the Olympics required that all participants be non-professionals. The Amateur Sports Act of 1978, signed by Jimmy Carter and (revised later in 1998), provides legal protection to individual athletes and doesn’t require amateur status to compete.

The professional status of athletes is now celebrated and expected within Olympic competition. In 1992, when the “Dream Team” of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Scotty Pippen, John Stockton and Patrick Ewing became a cultural phenomenon, the IOC and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee changed its tune.

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The stage may be set for the return of the arts

The Olympics like any event now is a money-making endeavor for both the athletes and the USOC/IOC. For many of the athletes in sports outside the mainstream, the Olympics are their shot at a fleeting moment of fame. Every four years we get excited to watch the likes of swimming, gymnastics, track, beach volleyball and of course, curling. These athletes have a small window to capitalize off of the whole world watching and that includes sponsorship deals.

So with amateur status no longer an applicable argument, is it time we brought back the arts in the Olympics?

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