Plaque marks Rugby's other inspiration: the Olympic Games

1st May 2009 at 01:00

The name Thomas Arnold (left) is inextricably linked with Tom Brown's Schooldays, the game of rugby and the British boarding school system. However, it is not often associated with the Olympics.

But this week, a plaque was unveiled at Rugby School to commemorate the role played by Thomas Arnold in inspiring the modern Olympic Games.

Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron who established the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, believed strongly in the importance of improving education through sport, an idea he developed during a visit to Rugby.

After reading Thomas Hughes's novel Tom Brown's Schooldays as a boy, Coubertin travelled to Rugby to observe the effect of organised sport on pupils. He was impressed by what he described as "athletic chivalry" - the self-confidence and spirit of fair play that sport inspired - and resolved to spread it throughout the world.

Recalling his struggle to establish the Olympics, the baron wrote: "Thomas Arnold, the leader and classic model of English educators, gave the precise role of athletics in education ... It was to Arnold that we turned, more or less consciously, for inspiration."

But Patrick Derham, Rugby's headteacher today, points out that Arnold's contribution to the Olympics is often overlooked.

"It's forgotten, really forgotten, that underpinning the modern Olympic Games was an evangelical desire to reform education around the world," he said.

"The inspiration behind establishing the modern Games were the sports-dominated schools of Victorian England. And that whole revolution started with Arnold."

The new plaque was unveiled by Sebastian Coe, chairman of the organising committee for the London 2012 Olympics, who praised Rugby School's commitment to sport and its role within "the wider Olympic family".

Rugby has already signed up for the 2012 Olympic education programme, which encourages pupils to adopt the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. To encourage other schools to sign up for the programme, Rugby will host a mini-Olympics event for 20 local schools, including relay races, tag rugby and 800m races.

"The Olympic values are key qualities that distinguish a good school from a bad school," Mr Derham said. "They're a key part of character development."

Simon Warren, of Rugby Borough Council, said: "Rugby is proud of its distinguished sporting heritage. The plaque provides another important link binding the town to sporting excellence."

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