The Team GB coat of arms

28 April 2016

TeamGBpatent003Unveiled yesterday, the kit designed by Stella McCartney for Team GB at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio is centred on a coat of arms. This coat of arms, which is being granted both by the English kings of arms and by Lord Lyon King of Arms in Scotland for the use of the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations, combines symbolism for the Home Nations with references to the Olympics and Paralympics.

The initial procedural step leading to the creation of the coat of arms was a formal request to the Earl Marshal from HRH The Princess Royal, President of the BOA, and HRH the Earl of Wessex, Patron of the BPA. The resulting coat of arms was designed by Clive Cheesman, Richmond Herald at the College of Arms, in a process that began over eighteen months ago between the College, adidas UK, and the two grantee Associations.

The principal element on the shield is a unified group of the floral emblems of the four Home Nations. Two of each are shown and arranged so as to avoid ascribing primacy to any individual emblem. Four chain links hold them together at the centre; these links stand for the four years of the Olympic/Paralympic cycle, but their shape is also intended to recall that of an athletics track. This is the only reference in the design to a specific event or group of events, and is sanctioned by the central role of the main stadium in all Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The motto IUNCTI IN UNO (‘Conjoined in One’) makes reference to the union of the Home Nations within the UK, thereby picking up on the central idea of the shield. But it also alludes to the unity of the representatives of separate sports and, more significantly, of the Olympic and Paralympic teams within Team GB.

The coat of arms of Team GB as it appears in the digital artwork by Quentin PeacockThe supporters are lions holding Olympic torches and crowned with laurel wreaths. Lions have anciently represented at least three of the Home Nations, and have stood for the UK as a whole for many years – thus the combined British Isles rugby team has long been known as the British and Irish Lions. The laurel wreaths are of course an allusion to the ancient Olympic Games. A third lion in the crest emerges from a crown composed of discs (representing gold, silver and bronze medals) between relay batons; the latter are less a reference to the specific track team event than to the ethos of continuity, teamwork and shared responsibility.

Earlier versions of the design experimented with alternatives. At one stage the lion in the crest held, rather than a torch, four arrows – another reference to the four nations and the four years of the Olympic/Paralympic cycle, but also to the early role of archery as a Paralympic sport. Another option considered for the crest was a fox. This was a reference to the lines of the Greek poet Pindar who celebrated the skills of the champion athlete Melissus of Thebes by comparing him with lions and foxes:

"For when the competition is arduous his boldness is like that of roaring lions, but he is a fox for skill and cunning ..." (Pindar, Isthmian Odes 4.45-7)

Together with the lion supporters, a fox in the crest would have completed the imagery of Pindar’s poem on sporting prowess and made a reference to the Ancient Greek origins of the games.

Since it was clear from the outset that the design would be used in a wide range of contexts and media, while retaining a basic visual identity in all formats, high-quality heraldically correct digital artwork was produced at an early stage, even before the final content of the design was settled. This artwork was shared both with adidas UK and with Stella McCartney and her team so as to ensure the most suitable final design; the digital artist was Quentin Peacock of QxDesign, whose clean, elegant and heraldically precise work can now be seen in various forms on the Team GB kit and associated material.

When the design was finalized work could begin on the formal grant document, the ‘letters patent’ conveying the coat of arms to the grantee Associations. The work of longstanding College of Arms artist Tim Noad, the painting on the document closely follows the layout of the digital version but endows it with all the liveliness, vigour and subtlety of traditional heraldic artwork.

The result is an unusual and very successful example of close collaboration between old and new media in the rendition of a coat of arms. But there are of course many other styles and formats in which the new Team GB coat of arms can be represented and it is to be hoped that, in one form or another, it will see service for many Olympiads to come.

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