World Flags at the Olympics

The Summer Olympics officially begin in just a few weeks. In addition to amazing feats of athletic prowess, we’ll also witness moments of patriotism and pride from athletes around the world.

The flags of the competing countries are a key part of every Olympics, beginning with the opening ceremony when they take center stage along with the athletes.

Just like the American flag, the flag of each country tells a unique story that is part of the country’s heritage. These interesting stories are rarely told, so we thought it would be fun to share the story behind some of the flags you’ll see during this year’s Olympic games.

The Flag of Malaysia

The Malaysian flag, known as Jalur Gemilang, features two components that symbolize the 13 states of the country plus the federal government – 14 horizontal lines alternating red and white and 14 points on the flag’s star.

The star is partly surrounded by a crescent representing the nation’s official religion, Islam.

The flag of Malaysia was originally designed by a public works department architect in the late 1940s. It was then tweaked before being finalized and flown for the first time on May 19, 1950. Over the years it has evolved to keep current with changes in Malaysia’s states.

The Flag of Nigeria

Although simple in design, the Nigerian flag is quite striking.

It features three bold vertical bands of green, white, and green again. Theses bands tell the story of the country’s agricultural wealth, represented with the green bands, and its peace and unity, represented by the white band. The white band is also symbolic of the Niger River that runs throughout the country.

The flag of Nigeria was designed in 1959. A 23-year-old named Pa Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi won a design contest (and a prize of 100 pounds, or roughly $280) after learning about the opportunity in a newspaper while in college.

The Flag of Ireland

The Irish flag is made up of three colors. These colors – green, white, and orange – symbolize the hopes for the unification of its people.

The green stands for the native Irish, who were Catholics. The orange is for the later settlers from Britain who were Protestant and supported King William III (also known as William of Orange). In the middle of the two, the white portion represents the hopes for everlasting peace between the two groups.

The Flag of Tonga

Many country’s flag have evolved, and will continue to evolve, over the years. However, this won’t be the case with the flag of Tonga. That’s because it’s written in the country’s constitution that the flag design can never be changed.

The flag features the color red as well as a red cross on a white background. Both the color and the image signify that the country primarily consists of Christians by representing the blood of Christ.

The Flag of Estonia

The Estonian flag features three colored bands which each represent something of importance for the Estonian way of life.

The white color represents Estonia’s snowy landscape. The black signifies its fertile soil. The blue symbolizes the seas, lakes and sky of Estonia.

The design was originally adopted by the country’s provisional government in 1917 and the flag was used until the Soviet occupation of 1940. Upon the occupation, the Estonian was banned by the Soviets. In 1989 when the nation regained its freedom, the flag was officially adopted once again.

The Flag of Belarus

Belarus’s flag features a unique design element – red and white ornamentation. These feature, which makes the flag stand out, was inspired by designs typically found in Belarusian society.

The flag also features two colored bands of red and green. The red band represents the country’s previous struggles while the green band represents both hope and the country’s forests.

The Flag of Ukraine

The Ukrainian flag is simple but striking. It features just two colored bands. That yellow band symbolizes the country’s fields of wheat. The blue band represents its blue skies.

After the flag’s design was selected, people were unsure which way was up or down. As such, they would fly the flag with either the blue or yellow at the top. In 1918, an act of parliament finally decreed that the blue band goes on top and the yellow on the bottom.

The Olympic Flag

The instantly recognizable flag is a standard white flag that features the interlocking Olympic rings. These rings debuted in 1914 as the official logo of the Olympics. The rings were meant to represent the five “continents” that participated in the games: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.

Athletes whose countries do not officially participate in the games—including countries that boycott or are disqualified—compete under the Olympics flag.