Olympic Games Lethargy

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Olympic Games Lethargy is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Daily Express (No. 4096) on 24 may 1913.

Olympic Games Lethargy

Daily Express No. 4096 (p. 5)



The comments, published in the "Express" during the last three weeks on the lethargy of the British Olympic Council, are replied to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a letter printed below.

Among the points raised by "Orion" in Monday's "Express" were the following:—

Who appointed the new committee of eleven members?

Has the committee the power of veto over the spending of all money subscribed by the public?

What are its powers?

Has any person given a monetary guarantee?

Why has the council agreed to accept a secondary position?


To the editor of the "Express."

Sir, — My attention has been called to an article by your correspondent "Orion," in which a number of questions are asked upon points connected with the organisation for the Olympic Games. Most of these questions seem to be addressed to the Olympic Council, and some, I may add, are concerned with matters which have already been fully explained in communications to the Press.

There are a few, however, connected with the genesis of the whole organisation, which I may, perhaps, be better able to answer than any one else, and I can begin by assuring your correspondent that there is no mystery in the matter, and that all the facts are entirely at his disposal.

At the time of the last Olympiad there was, as he recalls, a wide-spread dissatisfaction at the performance of the British team, and at the failure of the Olympic Council to produce a better result — which failure was, in my opinion, largely due to the wretched support which they had received from the public and the Press. However, there was a generally expressed desire that some change of organisation should be made.

As I was interested in the matter, and had some definite ideas as to the lines the reorganisation should take. I wrote a couple of letters to the "Times" indicating my views. These letters brought me in contact with two members of the "Times" editorial staff. Finally, Lord Northcliffe was interested in my expression of opinion, and lie intimated that if I could effect such changes he would support the Olympic movement to the best of his ability.

Let me say at once that it was clearly understood and asserted from the beginning that this arrangement should be national, and that no private interest should in any way be served. All Press communications were to go through a common agency. This condition has been most loyally fulfilled — and, indeed, I think that the first suggestion of it came from Lord Northclitfe himself.


Apart from the help which he could give the cause by public ventilation, Lord Northcliffe came forward also, in a most sportsmanlike manner, with an offer for financial help from his own private purse. No sum was named, but the understanding was that his contribution should bear some relation to the amount subscribed by the public.

As no public subscription has yet been made, it is not possible to give your correspondent the details upon this point which he demands. The reason why the appeal has been delayed is that the state of the money market during the Balkan War made it a very inopportune time to go to the public for funds.

So much for Lord Northcliffe's association with the matter. There remain the questions connected with tho formation of the committee.

My draft proposals in the "Times" met with so much general approval, both from individuals and from the Press, that I put myself in communication with the Olympic Council, and inquired how far changes could be carried out on those lines, pointing out that such an organisation was assured of a certain amount of support. The representatives of the council met me in a very courteous and reasonable spirit, but the matter was delicate and complicated, and some months elapsed before all the details were settled.

It was then agreed that, as the public were putting up the money, the public should be represented to the extent of one-half upon the financial committee, which should have an absolute control over the spending of the fund.

The question then arose as to who should form the committee. There was only one body existing which had any legal status in the matter, and that was the council itself. Yet the choice of the public members could not be left to it, otherwise the rearrangement became a farce.


Under these circumstances, the gentlemen who had already interested themselves in the matter, including myself, selected certain names which seemed suitable, and these were submitted to the council for criticism, and if necessary, for veto. There was no other way in which the matter could be carried through.

The result was the formation of an excedingly strong committee — if I, who am a temporary member of it, maybe allowed to say so. The members representing the public are, as has been already stated. Mr. J. E. K. Studd, who has had great administrative as well as athletic experience; Mr. H. W. Forster, M.P., also an administrator as well as an athlete; Mr. Edgar Mackay, of motor-boat fame, who will act as hon. treasurer; Mr. Bosanquet, who has played for England at cricket; and Mr. Anderson, who was one of the English team at the last Olympiad. To these the council has added Mr. Theodore Cook and Mr. Robertson, both of them ex-Olympians, with Mr. Fisher, the hon. secretary of the Amateur Athletic Association, and Mr. Hurd, ex-secretary of the Swimming Association.

These form the Financial Committee, who are responsible for the wise expenditure of the fund. In determining that expenditure they will, of course, be guided by the advice and requirements of the various governing bodies of sport.

I trust that these details may cover the points raised by your correspondent, so far as they come within the events in which I have been concerned; I agree that the public have a right to know every detail when they are asked to subscribe and when the matter is national.

I think, however, that questions should be asked in a less querulous fashion than in this instance, for it is annoying to those who are giving time or money or both to the public service when they receive less than common courtesy in return.

Windlesham, Crowborough.

["Orion" will reply to Sir A. Conan Doyle's letter in Monday's "Exprees."]

See also