A statue of an athlete with his right arm raised has been removed from its pedestal at the entrance of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. While the athlete is not doing the infamous Hitler salute, the gesture is linked to fascism, the Olympic Stadium Foundation concluded after a year-long investigation.
The bronze statue has stood there since the stadium was built for the 1928 Olympic Games, years before the Nazis came to power. An explanatory text sign notably indicates a historic link with an ancient Roman salute after ‘The Oath of the Horatii’ by JL David.
The Foundation now concluded that Baron de Coubertin, the founding member of the International Olympic Committee introduced the gesture in 1924 at the Paris Games. That was at the same time as the rise of fascism in Italy under Mussolini, who first adopted the gesture as a salute.
Director Ellen van Haaren: “Artist Gerarda Rueb did not have bad intentions when creating the sculpture. You have to keep the two lines well separated from each other. You have the historical fact that the salute dates from a fascist era, and you also have the intention of the maker to express the so-called ‘sporty greeting’ from 1924, but once you have established that the salute itself can be traced back to fascism, you have to take action.” The statue was therefore removed and relocated inside the stadium.
I do believe that there was public pressure for taking a moral stance and therefore the committee created an unfortunate fallacy that ‘reads into’ a contradictory and arbitrary link to fascism. At the same time one might claim that as long as the statue is relocated and not destroyed, we may respect this action in the name of those who feel offended. I guess that is the only valid reason the (non-objective) committee should have chosen for, given the (ever dubious) urgency they perceive.
1. Memorial Day, May 1 1865, Charleston, S.C.
2. Gabriele d’Annunzio’s 1919 speech in the self-proclaimed (fascist) state of Fiume
3. Geo André opens Olympic Games of Paris, 1924
4. The statue by Gerda Rueb, 1928
5. A policewoman at Charleroi Airport makes a Hitler salute at fatal arrest (2020).
6. Hiawatha's Farewell, 1911 [Library of Congres]