(This is the English version of a French entry on the blog. If you see any funny language or do not understand something, please, send me a message. Many thanks in advance)
After reading a call for papers for an issue of the online Journal of Festive Studies devoted to the theme of “Sport and Festivity“, as sport is a frequent theme of €2 commemorative coins, I had a look at the way this topic is presented on these recent public images.
The corpus is small ; it is currently made up of 21 coins. Here are the issuing countries of these “sports” coins with the number of coins: France (6), Greece (3), Portugal (3), Andorra (1), Belgium (1), Estonia (1), (Finland) (1), Italy (1), Lithuania (1), Luxembourg (1), Malta (1), Slovakia (1).
Some countries in the Eurozone have not minted any €2 commemorative coins related to sports, while France has issued 6 coins, Greece and Portugal 3 each. This is due to the fact that France has launched a multi-year coinage program in connection with the Olympic Games to be held in 2024 in Paris, while Greece, organizer of the 2004 Olympics, and Italy, organizer of the 2006 Winter Olympics, have chosen to mint only one coin when the country had organized this event. However, in the case of Greece, this country also issued a currency for the Special Olympics (for people with intellectual disabilities) organized in Athens in 2011.
On the other hand, other countries struck coins for Olympic Games which they did not organize themselves: Portugal for the Olympic Games of Tokyo and those of Rio, and Belgium also for those of Rio.
To the “Olympic” coins, we must add that of Greece in 2015 for the 75th anniversary of the death of Spyrídon Loúis, winner of the marathon in 1896 during the first modern Olympic Games, that of France in 2013 for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Pierre de Coubertin and that of Luxembourg in 2023 for the 25th anniversary of the admission of the Grand Duke Henri as member of the IOC.
Compared to the Olympics, it is remarkable that football is only represented once on the €2 commemorative coins, again by France, in 2016, for the UEFA European championship. It should be noted, however, that the European Championships in 2008, 2012 and 2021 were either not organized in a member country of the euro zone, or were organized jointly in several countries that were not all members of the euro zone. As far as the football World Cup is concerned, only the 2006 event in Germany could have offered a reason to strike a euro coin. Finally, it should be noted that we are only talking about men’s sports here: no event exclusively for women has ever been celebrated on a €2 commemorative coin.
France celebrates another major international sports event with the Rugby World Cup (for men) in 2023. Andorra celebrates the 2018-2019 Alpine Skiing World Cup finals (for men and women) in 2019, and Portugal highlights another international multi-sport tournament, albeit a smaller one, with a coin for the 2009 Lusofonia Games (for men, women and people with disabilities). Let’s finish this list with the Slovakian coin of 2024 for the 100th anniversary of the Košice International Marathon (also known as the International Peace Marathon) (first, only for men ; women joined the race after 1980).
In all, 17 out of the 21 coins studied here are devoted to international competitive sports gatherings. European governments used their coins to celebrate major sports festivals, i.e. high-level professional sport, not amateur practice, except perhaps for the Košice International Marathon, but this remains to be verified.
Other commemorative coins
In 2016, Estonia celebrates with a coin the 100th anniversary of the birth of Estonian chess player Paul Keres; in 2022, Lithuania marks 100 years of basketball [in Lithuania, I suppose] [Ill. 4] and Finland commemorates the centenary of the Finnish National Ballet [Ill. 15]. One currency stands out for its originality, that of Malta in 2020, whose theme is games and is illustrated by a child’s drawing, chosen by a contest [Ill. 21].
No crowd to be seen
While the majority of sports euro coins are dedicated to major sports festivals, it is notable that spectators are not represented at all on them. Sometimes a stadium is drawn in the background of the main image (Greece 2015 [Ill. 1], France 2021, France 2022, France 2023 [Ill. 12-14]), but it appears empty and no human being can be seen. Sports fans, crowds are invisible on the euro coins.
Sometimes, on the coins, an element of landscape or of urban heritage allows to identify geographically the place of the sports meeting (Italy 2006: the Mole Antoniella for Turin [Ill. 2]; France 2016: a map of France [Ill. 3]; Lithuania 2022: a map of Lithuania [Ill. 4]; France 2021: the Eiffel Tower; France 2022: the Genius of the Bastille; France 2023: the Pont Neuf [Ill. 12-14]).
The public’s participation and enthusiasm are the great absents in these images. The coins show festivals without festivity.
Little joy, few emotions
We don’t see much joy or even emotions on these coins either. Obviously sometimes for simple practical reasons, as with the athlete skiing on the Italian coin of 2006 [Ill. 2] and the one from Andorra in 2019 [Ill. 5]: they have helmets, their facial expressions and feelings are invisible, but their movements and the speed they evoke are exciting.
The only expressions of joy visible on commemorative euro coins are not strictly speaking numismatic images or original numismatic designs made by public authorities, because they are copies of logos. Thus, the coin issued for the 2011 Athens Special Olympics [Ill. 6] uses the logo of the competition [Ill. 9], and expresses an idea of joy with a symbolized figure of an athlete, a spiral olive branch on a background of radiant sun. In 2016, it is another logo [Ill. 10] that symbolizes the individual joy of a winning athlete draped in the Belgian national flag after his or her performance [Ill. 7]. As for the image of the Portuguese coin of 2009 celebrating the games of the lusophonie [Ill. 8], it is paradoxical because it adopts the logo of the games [Ill. 11], a joyful image of a silhouette of athlete handling the ribbon of the rhythmic gymnastics, whereas this discipline is not an event in this competition.
On the other hand, one must acknowledge some humor in the French coins issued for the 2024 Olympic Games with Marianne as a sprinter (2021), a hybrid of the Genius of the Bastille and Myron’s Discobolus (2022) and the boxer Sower (2023) [Ill. 12-14], but this is a referential humor, a fine mix of cultural allusions, historical sports heritage and national heritage, hardly an expression of joy.
As for the 2022 Finnish coin celebrating the centenary of the national ballet [Ill. 15], while it shows a nice muscled leg and a lively gesture, there is no visible human face a face, and it is impossible to discern the sentiment it might express.
It is perhaps worth pointing out that two coins may evoke a strong emotion in some people because they display a religious, Christian, image. They are both Portuguese. Thus, the coin that celebrates the Tokyo Olympic Games [Fig. 16] is inspired by the logo of the Portuguese Olympic Committee [Fig. 17], but it is a simplified version of it. As a result, the cross of the Military Order of Christ that appears on the coin seems to be only a religious symbol, having lost its function as a decoration on a ship’s sail associated with Portugal’s age of discovery, and the mast on the logo became on the coin merely an oblique line that is difficult to understand.
Regarding the coin celebrating the 2016 Rio Olympics [Fig. 18], there is again the question of the original meaning of the image. Officially, it is the “Representation of the work Red Independent Heart [Fig. 19] by the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos “. This contemporary artwork is a large moving piece made of thousands of plastic forks deformed by heat. However, the shape of this sculpture is very precisely that of a famous religious emblem of Portugal, often reproduced on jewelry [Ill. 20], the Sacred Heart venerated at Viana do Castelo. The two Portuguese coins thus seem to me to closely mix sport and Catholicism, sports festival and religious emotion.
The image of sport on €2 commemorative coins is stilted, focused on professional sport, its athletes and the achievement of results. No attention is paid to the spectators. The only time there is any sentiment is when countries use on their official coins the logos of sports organizations, most likely created by advertising agencies or publicists. In this case, it can be considered that States are delegating their image to more or less private organizations. When Portugal borrows Catholic symbols for its coins, it is a matter of national cultural heritage, and one wonders whether the other participants in the European Council, who, it should be remembered, must jointly approve all €2 commemorative coins, have fully understood the meaning of these religious messages.
The Maltese coin dedicated to children’s games [Ill. 21] is a welcome exception to this series, as it shows nothing but the pure pleasure brought by a physical activity, with no commercial or religious pressure and no imperative drive to win.