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Inside the Games

The sinister "Anthropological Days"

The site of the 1904 Games being St. Louis, a region with a legacy of slavery, and the period being just after the end of the American Civil War, racial discrimination was still widespread in this part of the United States at that time.

In this context then the organisers of the Games came up with the shocking idea of organising an "Anthropological Days" event. For this they recruited participants in the concurrent Trade Fair's ethnic exhibits. Even at the time it was clear to see the general feeling that the indigenous competitors were regarded as inferior by the organisers. Today the event can be seen as clear racist pseudoscience.

Often wearing little else but small loincloths, Sioux, Yehuelche Indians from Patagonia, Cocopas from Mexico, Moros from the Philippines, Ainos from Japan, Pygmies from Africa, and many others representing the various indigenous tribes of the world, came together in this "outrageous masquerade", as it was described by Pierre de Coubertin in his "Memoires".

"Nowhere else but in America," he added "would anyone dare to make this a part of the Olympic programme. To the Americans, everything is allowed. But this outrageous masquerade will amount to nothing except to teach these participants how to run, to throw, and to jump - and thus leave the white man lagging behind."

Quite a premonition from the creator of the modern Olympiad, especially considering the reality many years later with Oympic heroes such as Carl Lewis, Abebe Bikila, Hitoshi Saito and Alberto Juantorena fully realising de Coubertin's prophecy. Incidentally, de Coubertin did not even bother to attend the Games.


Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.