Why is there no motorsport at the Olympics?

If the automobile is very present at the Olympic Games as an official sponsor like Toyota, motorsport is completely absent from the program. Why ?

The modern Olympic Games were recreated in 1896 under the leadership of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. At that time, the car was in its infancy and it was not until the second Olympiad in Paris in 1900 to see the automobile attempt to become a discipline in its own right of the games.

It must be said that France is THE land of the automobile (birth and growth). Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee does not recognize the automobile as an Olympic sport which prefers to focus on physical performance alone.

Never mind, seven events will be organized in parallel with the games with the program: carts, lightweights, heavyweights, passenger cars, seat cars (1) and racing cars.

A test of more than 1300 km

Although we are in the early days of the automobile, the challenges set are significant. The flagship race is a round trip Paris-Toulouse-Paris 1,347 km long. At the time, the roads were not asphalted and highways did not exist. The challenge is big. Louis Renault, a competitor at heart (the manufacturer Renault will be the first winner of a Grand Prix in 1906 NDLA) embarks on the adventure.

78 vehicles of all categories are at the start. They will only be 18 on arrival. The winner of the race is Alfred Velghe. He is also known under the name of Levegh, and was the uncle of Pierre Levegh, who died in 1955 at the wheel of his Mercedes in the fatal accident of the 24H of Le Mans (84 dead and more than 120 injured). He drove a Mors (French brand pioneer of motor cars).

The cart category is won by Louis Renault, driving a Renault car. Louis Renault knew that this kind of demonstration brought in customers.

Official return in 1936, to the XI Olympiad of the modern era

The automobile disappears from the Olympics while it develops in the street, but also on the track for more and more numerous and disparate races (Grand Prix, rallies, raids, etc.). It was not until 1936 and the Berlin Olympics to see the automobile return to the fold of Olympism.

Again, the car is not an official sport. But unlike 1900 when it was squarely parallel to the Olympics, this time it is a demonstration sport, with a place in the middle of the events. Only one race is on the program: a rally that crosses Germany. He must arrive at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, in front of the Chancellor. The race is scheduled to last eight days, from July 22 to 30, and 60 cities have been designated as a compulsory passage point.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Auto Union are obviously part of the game as well as a few other German brands. Their mission is clear: to triumph in this rally and thus show the superiority of Germany with a lap of honor in the stadium, like the winner of a marathon.

Humiliation for German brands

In the end, Elizabeth « Betty » Haig and her co-driver Barbara Marshall take a sufficient lead with their Singer Le Mans 1500 to no longer be worried. For the regime, it is a snub. Imagine: two women, British (the only English NDLA crew), on an English car ahead of the national brands?

In all haste, the finish is moved. There was no question of having a “dishonor” in the middle of the Olympic stadium. Especially since Betty Haig is Marshal Haig’s niece. The latter played an important role in World War I against Germany.

Still, for history, Haig (2) and Marshall on their Singer are the only ones to have received the Olympic gold trophy (official name) in a motor sport event. The silver trophies were Huschke von Hanstein and his co-driver on a BMW. The bronze goes to the Swiss Paul Abt and Hanny Haig on a Ryley. Note that the route passed through the AVUS, the first motorway in the world.

Motorsport soon at the Olympics? Nothing opposes it

But then why haven’t there been other Olympic motorsport attempts or events? Well, because the Olympic Charter, called the Yearbook of the International Olympic Committee in 1908, for 99 years excluded « sports, disciplines or events in which performance depends essentially on mechanical propulsion ».

In 2007, this sentence was deleted, paving the way for motorsport at the Olympics. But, it is likely to pass a lot of time before a car or motorbike race at the Olympics. In 2013, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) signed the Olympic charter as well as the World Anti-Doping Code.

Infrastructure concerns would arise, and establishing the list of disciplines would necessarily be the subject of endless discussions. On the other hand, the FIA ​​launched with SRO (Stéphane Ratel Organization) the FIA ​​Motorsport Games or the “Olympic Games” of motorsport. The first edition took place in 2019. The second must take place this year in France, officially in Marseille and at the Castellet – Paul Ricard circuit.


(1) a place car is a taxi. He is authorized to park or maraud in the public square.

(2) Betty Haig has won several car rallies, hill climbs, etc. She finished 15th in the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari 166MM Coupé.

Illustration: a Singer Le Mans 1.5l

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