What Do the Olympic Rings Symbolise? The Colours and History, Explained

What Do the Olympic Rings Symbolise? The Colours and History, Explained

With the 2024 Summer Olympics fast approaching it brings up all sorts of questions: which country has won the most gold medals? Which new sports have been added this year? What do the iconic Olympic Rings symbolise? It’s that last one we’re here to answer today.

History of the Olympic Games

The games were founded by Pierre de Coubertin, a French historian, who hoped to promote international relations and understanding through competitive sport.

The first Olympic Games dates back to 1896 in Athens, with 14 countries represented. Fast-forward to today, and there are over 10,000 athletes set to compete from 206 different National Olympic Committees.

Each year, cities around the world bid to take a turn at hosting the Summer Olympics, with the United States holding the record for hosting the most times at four.

Another fun fact is that only five countries have competed in every single Summer Olympic Games, and Australia is one of them! (alongside France, Great Britain, Greece, and Switzerland).

History of the Olympic Rings

The iconic Olympic Rings are the symbol of the Olympic Movement around the world. The design was created by Olympic games founder, Pierre de Coubertin.

According to the Olympic Charter:

“The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions (the Olympic rings), used alone, in one or in five different colours. When used in its five-colour version, these colours shall be, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings are interlaced from left to right; the blue, black and red rings are situated at the top, the yellow and green rings at the bottom in accordance with the following graphic reproduction.”

What do the Olympic Rings mean?

There are specifically five rings in the Olympic symbol to represent the coming together of the five parts of the world “won over to the causes of Olympism”. As Coubertin says in the Olympic charter:

“These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to the cause of olympism and ready to accept its fecund rivalries. What is more, the six colors thus combined reproduce those of all nations without exception.”

What do the Olympic Rings’ colours represent?

As mentioned, the colours of the Olympic Rings are blue, yellow, black, green and red. While many think each of the colours is supposed to align with one of the competing continents, this is actually incorrect.

As per Olympics.com, the five colours combined with the white background were designed to represent the colours of the flags of all nations at that time, without exception.

How have the Olympic Rings changed over time?

There are seven official designs of the Olympic Rings but the preferred one is the full-colour version placed upon a white background. The Olympic Rings are also able to be presented fully in any of the six colours when necessary.


The rings’ design was first created in 1913 by Pierre de Coubertin. From the start the symbol was depicted as five interlocking rings in different colours. This symbol was depicted on the Olympic flag for the Olympic Jubilee Congress in 1914 in Paris, which was the 20th anniversary of the Olympic movement.


The rings were officially debuted at the Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920.


In 1986, the IOC Graphic Standards included an official description of how a version of the rings with spaces between them should look.


In 2010, the IOC Board opted to return to the seamless, spaceless design of the interlocking rings as originally depicted by Coubertin.

Lead Image Credit: Getty Images North America/ Kiran Ridley,Getty Images)

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