PtG Comment 11.10.2010

The Nobel Peace Prize to the IOC?

Yet again, the Nobel Peace Prize did not go to the IOC. This year the prize went to Liu Xiaobo – the Chinese dissident – who criticized those who wanted to boycott the Beijing Olympics because that would deteriorate the human rights situation in China.

The only Nobel Peace Prize winner who has any direct connection to the Olympics is Philip John Noel-Baker, who received the prize in 1959 for his work for disarmament. He competed in the Olympics three times (1912, 1920 and 1924) and won a silver medal in the 1,500 meters at the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920. He was not awarded the prize for his Olympic achievements, though. The question some ask themselves – especially inside the Olympic Movement – is whether the IOC's achievements should be crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel and Coubertin

The modern Olympic idea and movement were created in the era of the international peace activism of the 1800s. Both Alfred Nobel and Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the IOC, were strongly influenced by Bertha von Suttner’s book “Lay Down Your Arms!”. Nobel's will was written in 1895 and Alfred Nobel died the following year, the same year as the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens.

Peace Prize Winners support the IOC

At the Olympic Congress in 1894 in Paris – when the IOC was created –a list of supporters of the Congress was presented. On this list you could find Henri Dunant and Frederic Passy (Peace Prize winners in 1901), Elie Ducommon (winner in 1902), Bertha von Suttner (winner in 1905), Fredrik Bajer (winner in 1908) and Henri La Fontaine (winner in 1913), in addition to the Permanent International Peace Bureau (winner in 1910) which was established in the environment of these peace activists. Not only were the Olympic ideals founded on the idea of peace and arbitration, but they also had the support of the majority of the Nobel Peace Prize winners before the First World War. In addition, there were many other Nobel winners in Coubertin’s circle of friends, including Wilhelm Ostwald, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909.


Pierre de Coubertin was both influenced by the political aspects of the ancient Olympics and the international peace movement of his time. In the ancient Olympics, it was particularly the Olympic ceasefire – Ekecheiria – Coubertin noticed. In connection with the ancient Olympic Games (from the year 776 BC to the year 393 AD) there was declared a ceasefire, which lasted a month before, during and after the Games. The main purpose of the ceasefire was to ensure the safe journey of participants and spectators to and from the Games.

Before the Winter Games at Lillehammer in 1994, the United Nations and the Olympic movement initiated a collaborative effort to revive the ceasefire idea from the ancient Olympics. In 1993, 184 national Olympic Committees approached the UN with a request to be part of a global ceasefire. This idea got formal approval in the UN through a resolution in 1993. Since then, every Olympic organizer has urged the international community to impose a ceasefire during the Olympics, and each time the UN has adopted a resolution supporting the principle of such a truce.

A disappointed Samaranch

When Juan Antonio Samaranch gave a speech at the UN General Assembly during the UN's 50th anniversary in 1995, the IOC president was convinced that he was a clear candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize partly because of the Olympic ceasefire and because he believed the Olympics united nations which were otherwise in war and conflict. This honour was never granted and it is said to be one of his Excellency's greatest regrets. One of the reasons he did not get the prize may be that he served as sports minister under Franco; another may be that the Olympic movement still has a ways to go before it qualifies for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nominated by Hitler

Pierre de Coubertin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the German Foreign Ministry after the "successful" Olympics in Berlin in 1936 and he also received 10,000 Reichsmark from Adolf Hitler for the good publicity Germany received because of the Games. In the years since, this has stuck with the Olympic movement. However, the IOC has most likely been a Nobel Peace Prize candidate several times after that. IOC’s close cooperation with the UN – to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and as a holder of UN observer status – and the common belief that sport can solve almost all of the world’s problems, means that the IOC is still mentioned.

The last time this topic was broached was during the Olympics in Vancouver where an IOC member from Uruguay suggested that the IOC should actively lobby to get the Nobel Peace Prize. The proposal received support from the UN's special adviser for sports, Wilfried Lemke, who felt that the IOC was a very strong candidate for the prize. To this suggestion, IOC President Jacques Rogge replied that it would not be in the IOC spirit to lobby for such prizes.

IOC’s turn?

Since 1901, 23 organisations have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but none of these have used sport as an active instrument for promoting peace. I'm sure everyone at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne would like to be number 24 and that Jacques Rogge willingly accepts the price on behalf of Coubertin, Noel-Baker and the IOC. All in the spirit of the IOC.

This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on 7 October 2010. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on