What Are The Official Languages Of The Olympics?

Finish line with English "FINISH" in large letters during PyeongChang 2018 in South Korea. Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com
Finish line with English "FINISH" in large letters during PyeongChang 2018 in South Korea. Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

Section 23 of the Olympic Charter, which came into use on July 17th, 2020, stipulates that English and French are the official languages of the Olympics and all documents must be available in both languages. This International Olympics Committee (IOC) rule goes on to dictate that during the games, real-time interpretations in Arabic, German, Russian, and Spanish must be available for all sessions. Lastly, part three states that the French text will prevail in the event that there is a divergence between English and French. The important question to ask is, what if the language of the host nation differs from any of the languages mentioned above? Well, the IOC has guidelines for that as well.

The Relationship Between French And The IOC

The International Francophone Organization is keen on promoting the French language internationally. For this reason, this organization partners with the IOC and sends a special French-language ambassador to every winter and summer iteration of the Olympic Games. This ambassador is usually an accomplished artist or person with high achievements from any French-speaking nation. The ambassador’s main task is normally to promote the French language and culture during the games. The ambassador ensures that the French translations and interpretations at the games are of high quality and that he also promotes the use of the language in local schools.

Host Country Language

There are several countries that speak neither English nor French but have hosted either or both the summer and winter Olympics. These countries include Greece, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Finland, Italy, Norway, Austria, Mexico, Russia, the former Yugoslavia, South Korea, Spain, China, and Brazil.

The IOC ruled that the language or languages of the host country become an Olympic language during the duration of the games in the country. This means that every announcement must be in English, French, and the language of the host country. For example in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the official languages were English, French, and Portuguese, whereas in Pyeongchang in 2018 it was English, French, and Korean.

Furthermore, during the opening ceremony, the host country’s alphabet determines the order by which countries enter the venue. During the opening ceremony, only Greece and the host nation’s parade do not follow the alphabetical order. Greece always enters first in honor of being the country where the first Olympics took place. The host nation always enters last. This order of first and last entrance was tested during the 2004 games in Athens where Greece was the host country. In that case, the Greek flag entered the venue first then the delegation entered last.

Host Country Or City With More Than One Language

One of the goals of the Olympic Games is to promote the interaction of cultures. Some host countries have a few different languages and cultures within their borders. In the 1992 Barcelona games, the games’ organizing committee had the challenge of incorporating Barcelona’s and Spain’s languages and culture into the rigid IOC guidelines. The 1992 Olympic games had four official languages: English, French, Catalan, and Castilian Spanish. This setting was so because Barcelona is in the autonomous region of Catalonia within Spain, which has its own language, Catalan. At the Games, the organizers used symbols of both Catalonia and Spain like the flags, anthems, and languages.


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