Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, will open the 2012 London Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry will be Olympic Ambassadors. Harry expressed his enthusiasm for this role during his recent visit to Jamaica, telling a reporter, “It’s massively important to get young kids out doing sport. . . I know that when I was at school, sport was the best thing. Being stuck in the classroom wasn’t.” While these senior members of the royal family will perform ceremonial roles at the Games, Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara Phillips hopes to qualify for the equestrian team, having pulled out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of an injury to her horse.
There is a long history of royal involvement in the Modern Olympic Games in both ceremonial and sporting roles. The first Olympics to take place in England occured in 1908. King Edward VII opened the 1908 Olympic Games in London, and his wife, Queen Alexandra presented numerous medals. Edward VII’s granddaughter Princess Mary requested that the marathon begin beneath the nursery windows of Windsor Castle, 42 kilometres (26 miles) from the newly built White City Stadium. This distance remains the official length of the Olympic marathon.
Princess Mary’s brother, King George VI opened the 1948 London Olympic Games.The British government had discussed allowing the United States to host these games because food rationing was still in effect but George firmly believed that hosting the Olympics would symbolize England`s recovery from the Second World War. Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have been actively involved in the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games throughout the Commonwealth. The Queen opened the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games, where Princess Anne competed in the equestrian events, at the invitation of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Although, the Queen received a letter from Parti Quebecois leader René Lévesque, requesting that refuse Trudeau`s invitation, the royal presence was well received. The Duke of Edinburgh opened the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games on behalf of the Queen.
Princess Anne and her daughter Zara are part of a long tradition of royal equestrians at the Games. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia`s cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich competed in the equestrian events at the 1912 Stockholm Games. His sister Marie attended with her husband, Prince William of Sweden and the other members of the Swedish royal family. To Dmitri`s disappointment, his team placed seventh and the Imperial Russian athletes did not receive a single medal in 1912.
Sailing is another popular event for royal Olympians. The future King Olav V of Norway (a nephew of King George V of Great Britain) won a gold medal in sailing in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Other prominent royal sailors include Felipe, Prince of Asturias, who was a member of the Spanish sailing team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. His mother, the future Queen Sofia of Spain and uncle, the future King Constantine II of Greece were both members of the Greek sailing team at the 1960 Rome Olympics, just thirteen years before the Greek monarchy was deposed in 1973.
The presence of Queen Elizabeth II and her family at the 2012 London Olympics marks more than a hundred years of royal involvement in the Modern Olympic Games. Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Zara Philips will promote London as a tourist destination, and the importance of sport, to an international audience.