The five Olympic rings are believed to represent the five parts of the world, i.e. the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. (Both the Americas are regarded as a single continent, while Antarctica is not taken into consideration.) Though no color is demarcated to a particular continent or region, various theories tend to associate these colored rings with various citations.
Modern Olympic Games, the form in which we see the event today, started more than a century ago. The event was the brain child of Frenchmen, Pierre de Coubertin, who was inspired by the Olympic festivals and decided to revive the games. After several attempts, Coubertin’s efforts finally bore fruit in the late 19th century.
Eventually, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed in 1894, and the first modern Olympics were held two years later in Athens, Greece, in 1896. Along with the games, Coubertin also gave us one of the most popular Olympic symbols, the Olympic flag, with five interlaced rings on a white background.
┗ The five interlaced rings which are depicted on the Olympic flag are known as the ‘Olympic rings’. These rings are arranged in 3-2 pattern on a white background, with the blue ring to the extreme left, followed by yellow, black, green and red, in the same order. An important symbol of the games today, the Olympic flag with five rings was designed by Pierre de Coubertin in August 1912.
┗ When design of Olympic rings was introduced in August 1912, the issue of Revue Olympique carried De Coubertin’s following statement –
“The emblem chosen to illustrate and represent the world Congress of 1914…: five intertwined rings in different colors – blue, yellow, black, green, red – are placed on the white field of the paper. These five rings represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition.”
┗ The Olympic rings were officially adopted in 1914, and made their debut at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.
┗ Interestingly, Coubertin himself never specifically mentioned that the color of these rings had any association with the continents. Though he is believed to have stated that his design was ‘truly an international symbol’ with the six colors (white included) reproducing the colors of all nations; i.e. “blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tricolors of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan and new China.”
┗ As you must have noticed, at least one of the five colors among the rings is present on the flag of each of the participating countries. The meaning of the five Olympic rings, according to the International Olympic Committee, is reinforcement of the idea that the Olympic Movement is an international campaign, and all the countries of the world are welcome to join it. Even the Olympic charter acknowledges the significance of these rings stating that they represent the union of the five continents, and the meeting of athletes from around the world at the Olympic Games.
┗ With no specific rules regarding the alignment of these rings, they were arranged in odd patterns initially. Eventually, however, strict rules about the arrangement pattern and color were decided upon. Today, there is a strict code pertaining to the use of this symbol, which has to be adhered to under any circumstances. Even if the Olympic rings are depicted on a black background, the black ring shouldn’t be substituted by a ring of any other color. As with other Olympic symbols, these rings are considered the property of the IOC, and cannot be used without their approval.
┗ The interlaced Olympic rings stand for unity among the five continents, which come together on a common platform, i.e. the Olympic Games. The games which have been organized for over a century now, have had some highs and lows of their own. Yet the very fact that they are still popular among all age groups across the world speaks volumes about their illustriousness.