Published on Jan 6, 2020

Olympic Ring Background Images

License Info: Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC

According to the IOC, “The Rings appeared for the first time in 1913 at the top of a letter written by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. He drew and colored the rings by hand.”

In the Olympic Review of August 1913, Coubertin explained that “These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to Olympism and ready to accept its fertile rivalries. Moreover, the six colors thus combined reproduce those of all the nations without exception.”

The rings were first used in the 1920 Olympic Games held in Antwerp, Belgium. They would have been used sooner, however, World War One had interfered with the games being played during the war years.


Design Inspiration

While Coubertin may have given meaning as to what the rings meant after he designed them, according to historian Karl Lennantz, Coubertin had been reading a magazine illustrated with an advertisement for Dunlop tires that used five bicycle tires. Lennantz feels that the image of the five bicycle tires inspired Coubertin to come up with his own design for the rings.

But there are different opinions as to what inspired Coubertin’s design. Historian Robert Barney, points out that before Pierre de Coubertin worked for the Olympic committee he served as the president of the French sports-governing body, the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA) whose logo was two interlocking rings, red and blue rings on a white background. This suggests that the USFSA logo inspired Coubertin’s design.

Using the Olympic Ring Logo

The IOC (International Olympic Committee) has very strict rules concerning the use of their trademarks, and that includes their most famous trademark the Olympic rings. The rings must not altered, for example, you can not rotate, stretch, outline, or add any special effects to the logo. The rings must be displayed in their original colors, or in a monochrome version using one of the five colors. The rings must on a white background, but a negative white on black background is allowed.

Trademark Disputes

The IOC has fiercely defended its trademarks, both of the image of the Olympic rings and the name Olympic. One interesting trademark dispute was with the Wizards of the Coast, famed publishers of the Magic the Gathering and the Pokemon card games. The IOC laid complaint against Wizards of the Coast for a card game called Legend of the Five Rings. The card game features a logo of five interlocking circles, However, the U.S. Congress had given the IOC the exclusive rights to any symbol consisting of five interlocking rings. The logo for the card game had to be redesigned.

Pierre de Coubertin 1863-1937

Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the co-founder of the modern Olympic Games.

Coubertin was born to an aristocratic family in 1863 and was always an active sportsman who loved boxing, fencing, horse riding and rowing. Coubertin was the co-founder of the International Olympic Committee, in which he held the position of Secretary General, and later President until 1925.

In 1894, Baron de Coubertin led a congress (or committee) in Paris with the intention of bringing back the ancient Olympic Games of Greece. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed and began planning the 1896 Athens Games, the first modern Olympic game.

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