In 1939, Sweden organised a World Sport Exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Pehr Hernik Ling, the founder of Swedish gymnastics and a leading proponent of physical education. This event was known as a ‘Lingiad’, and the decision was taken to repeat the event in 1949, this time receiving BIE recognition as a Special Exposition during the organisation's 23rd General Assembly on 13 June 1949. The long form of the Expo's theme was "Overview of the current State of Sport and physical culture in every country in the World to celebrate the centenary of the death of Mr. Ling, the founder of the Swedish gymnastics."

Unlike the Olympics, the 1949 Lingiad was organised as a non-competitive gymnastics festival, with a focus on collective participation. This movement grew in opposition to competitive and elite-focused sports that were growing in popularity at the time. The Expo was an opportunity to spark interest in physical activity to promote health, fitness and the pursuit of outdoor activities, at a time when new technologies and cars were making life less of a physical challenge. The Lingiad aimed to show how physical activity is a way to share, communicate, and increase solidarity among all participants.

Expo Programme

The Expo was based around the Stockholm Stadium, which was originally designed and built for the 1912 Olympic Games. A total of 14 countries took part in the Expo.

The most notable event at the Expo was the World Gymnastic Festival, which ran between 28 and 31 July. Over four days, around 14,000 gymnasts from across the world put on a range of collective displays and performances. These included a demonstration of 5,000 Swedish housewives moving in unison, as well as folk dancing performances from participants aged between 5 and 64. The international displays were just as impressive – one of the first performances was a mass team of almost 400 British men and women athletes, and a team of 200 Estonian dancers put on an emotional performance portraying the nation’s struggles. India, whose team represented the newly independent country’s diverse ethnic and religious mix, drew applause for its yoga-inspired gymnastics demonstrations.

The Expo was also host to the World Congress of Physical Culture, between 1 and 6 August, and the International Gymnastic Camp in Malmkoping between 7 and 13 August. Throughout the duration of the Expo, international gymnastics training courses were given at the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute in Stockholm, which was founded by Ling in 1813, and in the Gymnastic Association’s Folk High School in Lillsved.


The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) held its Congress during the Expo, during which the Dutch delegate proposed the idea of a regular international gymnastics festival. The idea was inspired by the success of the Lingiad, and was approved by the FIG in 1950, with the first edition being organised in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 1953. The ‘World Gymnaestrada’, as it has been named, became the successor to the Lingiad, and is now held every four years. It maintains the original concept of the Lingiad, with a focus on collective gymnastic performances rather than winning medals.