After 1,000 years of popularity, the Roman Emperor Theodosius banned all such festivals around 391 A.D. Though some athletic competitions continued to exist, it would be 1,500 years before the
concept of the Olympics as a peaceful competition among all nations was resurrected.
Pierre de Coubertin
In 1894, French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin promoted the reborn Olympics as “a new civil religion,” replete with symbols, traditions, rites and ceremonies. Winners received a silver medal, a certificate and a “crown of olive branches,” while those finishing second earned a copper medal and “a crown of laurel,” both reminiscent of the ancient games. De Coubertin drew on his Catholic education for the official Olympic motto – Faster, Higher, Stronger – first coined by Dominican Father Henri Didon in an 1891 speech to the members of a sports association.
This year, with the diversity of religious sensitivities in mind, officials have changed the angle of the commodes in some Olympic restrooms. According to the London Telegraph newspaper, Islamic law prohibits Muslims from facing Mecca – the direction of prayer – when they use the facilities. Last year, the British government changed the angle of toilets in London’s Brixton Prison after Muslim inmates complained of having to sit sideways in order to comply with religious law.
British Olympic officials said special foot-washing facilities are also being constructed next to Muslim prayer rooms. But there’s nothing they can do about that biggest religious conflict of all – Ramadan.
“A Muslim might feel it would have been nice to avoid this month but life doesn’t stop for Muslims during Ramadan even though they are fasting,” said Mogra. “The best thing for a Muslim is to continue his or her life as normal. This is the real test.”
Togay Bayalti, president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, said the dates will be difficult for Muslim athletes, but noted they “don’t have to observe Ramadan if they are doing sport and traveling. But they will have to decide whether it is important to them. It would be nice for the friendship of the games if the organizers had chosen a different date.”