As early as 4,000 years ago, the people of China practiced Gymnastics exercises purely to benefit their health and promote longevity. In Ancient Greece, where perfection of the human physique was highly celebrated, Gymnastics was practised by men and women. The Ancient Greeks prized Gymnastics so much it was part of the Ancient Olympic Games, making it one of the world’s oldest sports along with athletics. Gymnastics was utilised by the Ancient Romans to turn their soldiers into finely tuned machines.
Physical activity to promote health and happiness was one of the developments of the Age of Enlightenment, when Greek classical education was revived and heralded by thinkers who presented concepts linking the soul and the body. Coming on the heels of the Scientific Revolution, this era led to physical education as a science and quickly, a societal and nationalistic concept. Governments mandating physical activity led to the "Battle of the Systems" as debate raged over what the best exercises were, with promoters of different schools of physical education arguing their merits over the others. During this era, the first seeds of the sport of Gymnastics and its future competitive disciplines were sewn, and Artistic Gymnastics returned as a sport at the first Modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Cuperus, who founded the FIG in 1881, saw Gymnastics as an activity that was good for the body and mind - and above all, non-competitive. This vision was shared by only a small number of his associates, and as the years passed competitions were slowly integrated into the FIG's activities. The move toward competition culminated in the first international tournament held in Antwerp - Cuperus's hometown - in 1903. Today, that event is recognised as the first World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
Despite its new competitive dimension, Cuperus's idea of "Gymnastics for the masses" did not disappear. By the time the FIG was established, Gymnastics had been rooted into the fitness regimes of soldiers, and the military influence on the sport - marching out, saluting the judges at the beginning and end of a routine and the parade of flags - is still evident today.
Cuperus continued to cultivate his preferred brand of the sport, which was about facilitating social cohesion during a 19th century rife with industrial transformation and political upheavals. His vision followed the message long promulgated by the founding fathers of the activity, including Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and Per Henrik Ling.
Today, the Gymnastics for All movement strives to bring nations together through a world of movement and physical activity, contributing to global health, fitness and friendship. Anyone, regardless of age, shape or ability can take part in Gymnastics for All activities as part of a daily fitness routine.