Regional Director, USA Sport Group.
Part 3: When Politics Became an Olympic Sport
After a twelve year absence due to WWII, the Olympics Games returned to the world stage in 1948 in London. And although the war had ended, the political tension was only just beginning.
Germany and Japan were excluded from these Games due to their involvement in WWII, and in the post war ravaged Britain, rations were still in place, even for the athletes. But true British fighting spirit allowed the Games to take place and de Coubertin, who had died 11 years earlier, would have been proud of the camaraderie of all nations and competitors who took part. The 1952 Games in Helsinki saw the Soviet Union (USSR) send a team, who quickly began to dominate the medal tables, and saw the Republic of China boycott the Games due to the involvement of the People’s Republic of China. These games saw the most world records broken, a legacy which lasted for 56 years – until the Beijing Olympics in 2008!
The 1956 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia – the first time they were ever staged in the Southern Hemisphere. Due to the ongoing Suez War in Egypt (the invasion by Israel), they, along with Iraq and Lebanon, withdrew from the Games. Due to the Soviet control in Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland withdrew from the Games in protest of the Soviet Union attending. Perhaps Hungary should have boycotted also – as they clashed with the Soviet Union during a water polo game. And this time, the People’s Republic of China boycotted the games due to the involvement of the Republic of China. Surprisingly though… the number of nation’s competing remained almost the same as four years prior!
The 1960 Games in Rome were less eventful when it came to international unrest. South Africa appeared in the games for the last time under the Apartheid Regime, and were banned until 1992. The Soviet Union continued their domination, but the real story was a certain Mr Cassius Clay. The future-known Ali won the light-heavyweight gold medal and announced himself to the world as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
After years of great unease and unrest in the world, the Olympics had started to become a soapbox for political ideals rather than Olympic ideals. This of course is something which was unwanted, but some may say, unavoidable.
Would this change over time? Find out in part four…