The Olympic Games (27 august 1913)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Olympic Games is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 27 august 1913.

The Olympic Games

The Times (27 august 1913)



Sir, — I have read with great interest Mr. Frederic Harrison's letter upon the Olympic Games. In common with all the world, I have the utmost respect for Mr. Harrison's character and opinions, but I have hopes that there are some aspects of this matter which have escaped his attention or upon which he has been incompletely informed.

In the first place, it is admitted by the Appeal Committee that a hundred thousand pounds is a very large sum, but it is clearly stated that only a portion of it should be allocated to the Olympic Games, and that the fund shall be a nucleus for some such system of universal physical education as would be entirely outside the strictures which Mr. Harrison makes. Such a scheme, with its necessary provision of gymnasia and playing fields for the poor, must, I am sure, have his approval. It is impossible at this early stage to give exact figures, but certainly a good proportion of the fund would be spent in such a fashion.

Let us now come down to the balance which is expended upon the preparation for the Games themselves. Mr. Harrison implies in his letter that the British team would number about a hundred. Three times this estimate would be nearer the mark. He must remember that besides the single events there are many team competitions, football, gymnastics, physical exercises, hockey, rifle and clay-pigeon shooting, rowing, &c. If we make a full entry we must be prepared to look after at least 300 men. Mr. Harrison would admit that these men, who represent their country, should not have the burden of their expenses laid upon their own shoulders. They have to be conveyed to Berlin and back, and they have to be comfortably housed and carefully fed at a time of inflated prices. The sum will not be less than seven or eight thousand pounds for this item alone. How does Mr. Harrison propose to raise this, save by national appeal? Can he suggest any other course?

Mr. Harrison in discussing the general question of preparation for the Games draws a dismal picture of "an army of professional coaches" over-running the country, and of the likely youths being drafted away and maintained by the nation during the long period of training and preparation. I am convinced that those who have the management of the Games in hand would reprobate such a programme as heartily as Mr. Harrison does, and that all his fears upon this head will prove to be baseless. The army of coaches does not and never will exist. The new developments will take the form of providing practice grounds where none now exist (in all London how many places are there where a man could practise throwing a hammer?), in providing places for winter practice, in providing the impedimenta of sport for those who cannot procure them, and, finally, in encouraging every form of sport to adapt its conditions or distances to those which obtain at the Olympic Games. This can only be done by offering special medals or prizes to be competed for at those distances. It may seem that no great expense is involved in these developments. Perhaps not in any single case. But the Olympic Fund will have to meet demands from every part of Great Britain and Ireland, each legitimate in itself, and together making up a considerable sum.

Let us for a moment trace the evolution of that novice concerning whom Mr. Harrison has such misgivings. He is probably unearthed at one of the special novices competitions which give him a chance where he will not be overshadowed by some crack. He would then be watched and reported upon by the officials of his amateur body, which must be affiliated to the Amateur Athletic Association of his country. If he continued to make good he would probably be inspected and advised by the professional coach of his district - one, perhaps, of half a dozen in the country. He would advise the youngster as to form, precisely as an amateur cricketer has always been advised by a professional. If he continued to make progress and made good his claim to represent the country in an Olympic event he would train at the last, as a 'Varsity Blue trains for the boat race, and he would have the advice of the best professional that could be found. At no time save perhaps for the final week would his ordinary work in the world be interfered with, and at no time at all could any direct or indirect remuneration be given to him. What is there in all this which can justify Mr. Frederic Harrison in his lurid picture of athletic degeneration?

If Mr. Harrison's contention was that we should never have gone in for the Olympic Games at all, he might find many to agree with him. But, things being as they are, I would ask him to consider the courses open to us. One is to retire in the face of defeat and to leave the Colonies to put the Union Jack at the top when they can. As a good sportsman I am sure Mr. Frederic Harrison could not tolerate that. A second is to continue with our present haphazard half-hearted methods, and to see ourselves sink lower and lower from that third place which we now occupy. Surely that would not satisfy Mr. Harrison. There only remains one other course of action, and that is to do the thing thoroughly and well, to find out what talent we have, and to bring it to the scratch in the best possible condition. If Mr. Harrison will look at the names of those who have the matter in hand he will, I am sure, admit that they are very capable of devising means to this end, and that such money as is required will be spent wisely and in a manner which will be consistent with the best amateur traditions of this country. What our representatives could do when unaided by adequate national support was shown last year in Stockholm. Surely Mr. Harrison would not wish to see it repeated at Berlin. Can he devise any method to prevent such a misfortune save systematic and painstaking preparation, which in the end must mean money?

Yours faithfully,

Frinton, Aug. 26.

See also