Olympic Recognition: The Award of the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup.

Sir Thomas Fearnley (1880-1950) was an IOC member for Norway from 1927 until 1948 and an honorary member from 1948 until his death in 1950. He was also President of the Norwegian Federation of Ship Owners. Just before his death he decided to offer a cup in his name, to become known as the Fearnley Cup, which was awarded annually by the IOC between 1950 and 1974 to a sports club for its outstanding merit in the name of Olympism1. The original cup remains at Campagne de Mon-Repos in Lausanne, Switzerland, with the recipient receiving a miniature copy and a diploma2.

At the Stoke Mandeville Games of 1956 some of the prizes were presented by Sir (later Lord) Arthur Porritt3, himself a surgeon and also an IOC member for Great Britain. At the Games he is reported as stating that ‘The spirit of these Games goes beyond the Olympic Games spirit. You compete not only with skill and endurance but with courage and bravery too.4’ In fact the Games so impressed him that a few weeks later he wrote to Otto Mayer, Chancellor of the IOC, nominating the Games for the Fearnley Cup5. He also assured Herr Mayer that he was certain that the nomination would be backed by Lord Burghley, Great Britain’s other IOC member at the time, who had also presented prizes at the Stoke Mandeville Games of 1954. Otto Mayer replied less than a week later stating that he was uncertain about the eligibility of the Games as the cup was awarded for “meritorious achievement in the service of the Olympic Movement”6. However, he put the nomination forward anyway and at their session held in conjunction with the Olympic Games in Melbourne two months later the members voted to award the Fearnley Cup to the Games. This was the first time the cup had ever been awarded to a British organisation or any kind of disability sport organisation anywhere.

The replica cup and diploma were presented to Dr Guttmann by Sir Arthur Porritt in a special ceremony held on 30th January, 1957 at the British Olympic Association headquarters in London7. Also present at the ceremony were the Secretary and the Appeals Secretary of the British Olympic Association along with Dr Guttmann’s organising team for the Stoke Mandeville Games – Miss Dora Bell, Miss Joan Scruton, Mr Charlie Atkinson and Mr Thomas ‘Q’ Hill.

The award of the Fearnley Cup motivated Dr Guttmann to dream of far bigger things as is shown in the report of his opening speech at the 1957 Games when, with reference to the Fearnley Cup he is reported to have stated “I hope this is only the beginning of a closer connection between the Stoke Mandeville Games and the Olympic Games. In the past few years I have always emphasised that the Stoke Mandeville Games have become the equivalent of the Olympic Games.” He apparently went on to say that after the splendid recognition by the Olympic Committee in awarding them the Fearnley Cup he hoped that the Olympic Games would soon be open to disabled sportsmen and women8.


1. LA84 Foundation website, 2009, Norway and Olympism, (http://www.la84foundation.org/OlympicInformationCenter/OlympicReview/1978/ore123/ore123k.pdf) accessed 24-10-09.

2. Online Olympic Games Museum, 2009, The Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup, (http://olympic-museum.de/awards/fearnley_cup.htm) accessed 24-10-09.

3. Lord Porritt went on to spend more than thirty years as Chairman of the Paraplegic Sports Endowment Fund, which was set up to help finance the running costs of the Games.

4. The Bucks Herald, Friday, August 3rd, 1956, p. 9.

5. Letter dated 27th August, 1956 from Sir Arthur Porritt to Otto Mayer, Chancellor of the International Olympic Committee nominating the Stoke Mandeville Games for the Fearnley Cup. (IOC Archives)

6. Letter dated September 3rd, 1956 from Otto Mayer, Chancellor of the International Olympic Committee to Sir Arthur Porritt in response to the nomination of the Stoke Mandeville Games for the Fearnley Cup. (IOC Archives)

7. The Cord, 1957, The Fearnley Cup, Vol.9(2), p.9.

8. The Bucks Herald, Friday, August 2nd, 1957, p. 5.


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