Click here to skip to content > Sport & society home > Explore social sciences > Sport & life > Mega-events > Olympic ceremonies

Olympic ceremonies

Fireworks [8KB]

As sport - and the Olympic Games - increased in international importance, the hosting of the Games provided the governments of the host countries with valuable legitimising and promotional tools: for example, allowing them to present images calculated to impress observers with a show of efficiency, unity, power and benignity (as at the Berlin Olympics of 1936). The official games stamp of 1936 has an unexceptional image of an Olympic torch-bearing athlete with nothing to suggest the nature of the ruling regime, and we know that the German government was determined to give no grounds for bad international publicity and risk a boycott of the Games. This stamp is in the BL's philatelic collection.

Games ceremonies can promote inclusiveness, and invoke feelings of pride and reconciliation in the citizens of the host country. The Games held in Sydney in 2000 provided an ideal opportunity for the Aboriginal community of Australia to be celebrated through the Olympic torch ceremony. The first leg of the torch relay started at an Aboriginal sacred site (Uluru) and an Aboriginal gold medallist (Nova Peris-Kneebone) was chosen to be the first torchbearer. The final torchbearer for this Olympics was the Aboriginal athlete, Cathy Freeman, who lit the cauldron. In the research articles box on the right Sara Menges, a student researcher mentored by Dr Lara Killick from the University of the Pacific, discusses the politics of reconciliation, and the issues arising out of Cathy Freeman's participation in these Games.

Each host country hopes to project an image of some sort. What image might we anticpate from the London 2012 opening ceremony and what image was projected in the handing over ceremony in Beijing? London2012 has uploaded a video of this occasion on youtube.

Early Olympic ceremonies reached audiences through the medium of an interpreter such as a journalist or radio reporter. You can listen, by appointment, to the BBC's radio broadcasts of the closing ceremony of 1948 on 14 August, or the opening ceremonies of 1932 in Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin, which are available via the British Library's Listening and Viewing Service.

Getting started with the British Library's collections

See the mega-events bibliography for resources held here.

Help us to provide a research legacy for the London Olympics

Find out more

Research articles

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.

Running for reconciliation - Sara MengesPDF file

Social sciences at the British Library

Find out more