William Penny Brookes established the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850 ©Getty Images

A sports event which helped inspire Baron Pierre de Coubertin to revive the Olympic Games is seeking volunteers to help secure its future.

COVID-19 restrictions meant the historic Wenlock Olympian Games were unable to take place in 2020, but organisers hope that it will be possible to stage the competition again in July 2021.

The event takes place in British village Much Wenlock and the Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS) is supported by a grant from the British Olympic Foundation, but is faced with a shortfall of members to actually run the Games.

WOS media secretary Mac Bardsley told insidethegames: "The average [age] of our active members must be 70-plus. 

"As people are having health problems and just getting old, they are not going to be able to carry on for much longer.

"Two people who help a lot have already said they’ll do it for one more year and then pack it in.

"We had this problem before COVID-19, but it is a bit more serious now because two people have said they’re not going to carry on.

"To be healthy, I would say we need about 10 active people.

"Overall it is a small commitment but we just need that commitment."

One of the London 2012 mascots was named Wenlock as a hat tip to the Wenlock Olympian Games ©Getty Images
One of the London 2012 mascots was named Wenlock as a hat tip to the Wenlock Olympian Games ©Getty Images

An appeal has been launched through social media and in the local Shropshire Star newspaper, and the society can be contacted on [email protected].

The Wenlock Games gave their name to one of the London 2012 mascots. 

They traditionally take place over two days but Bardsley admits that may change.

"They could certainly shrink that’s no doubt about it, they could certainly shrink down to a core set of activities, athletics and a road race, maybe not all the add-ons like golf archery fencing and all the rest of it," Bardsley said.

"We’re not necessarily after young people, maybe people maybe just coming up to retirement who have got a bit of time.

"To be realistic people in their 50s and 60s, but we wouldn’t say people younger than that couldn’t join."

The Games were originally established by surgeon William Penny Brookes in 1850. 

In the early years they included cricket, tilting, quoits and even an old woman's race for a pound of tea.

When Evangelos Zappas sponsored "Olympic Games" in Athens, the two corresponded and a prize was sent from Wenlock to which the Greeks reciprocated.

We’re looking for people who would like to help with providing the Games each July. The summer Games incorporates a...

Posted by Wenlock Olympian Society on Sunday, 29 November 2020

Brookes also caught the eye of Coubertin who visited in 1890 and described Much Wenlock as "a page from the history of athletics".

Coubertin wrote: "The fact that the Olympic Games which modern Greece has been unable to restore are being revived today, is not due to a Hellene but to Dr.W.P.Brookes, at age 82 still alert and vigorous, whose activity and his vision are equalled only by the clarity of his vision and the uprightness of his approach."

A golden oak was planted in honour of Coubertin on Linden Fields in the town.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, International Olympic Committee President in the organisation's centenary year of 1994, planted an additional sapling but this was terminally damaged by storms and in 2019 WOS President Jonathan Edwards planted another to replace it.

The original aims of the WOS had been to "promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the Town and neighbourhood of Wenlock."

Brookes had also spoken of medals intended to "reward the best literary and artistic productions as well as remarkable feats of strength and skill".

To this day an artistic festival supplements the sport and in the wake of the pandemic, the WOS also held a socially-distanced creative writing competition.

"That’s another thing that Penny Brookes would have appreciated," said Bardsley.