On the eve of the anniversary of the opening of the 1992 Olympic Games, I thought it would be interesting to focus on one of Barcelona’s other (and most interesting) Olympic bids: the 1936 Olympic Games, or, the Olympics that never were. When Barcelona won the 1992 Olympic Games it was actually the 5th time they had been Olympic hopefuls. For various reasons past Olympic bids had been lost.
The 1924 Games would go to Paris as part of Baron de Coubertin’s last hurrah. The president of the IOC wanted to see his last Games in his home country.
The 1940 Games were canceled due to the Second World War.
1972 saw the Games heading to Munich in another interesting story (that’s for another day).
Hard defeats all of them, but it was 1936 that hit home the hardest. As you can see, Barcelona had wanted the Olympics for some time and even had the infrastructure in place at the time to host such an event. In 1929 Barcelona had hosted the Universal Exposition, expanding the city and adding in a brand new pavilion on top of Montjüic Hill (this would later be used as Olympic Stadium in the 1992 Olympic Games). Ever puzzling is how the Berlin of 1936 won the bid for the Olympic Games, but it is extremely important to know that the decision was taken in 1931. Back then Germany had a stable Weimar Republic and Spain had just adopted their very own Republic, having just put an end to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. To the IOC, Germany seemed like the safer choice.
The Berlin Games, would become known as the Hitler Games and be used as a nationalistic tool both inside and outside the country. In fact, the Olympic torch running ceremony used today was conceived for those very Games was a chance to show the world all that Germany had to offer. When word started to surface of the atrocities happening in Germany, questions arose as to whether or not the country should be able to hold such an event. Many around the world began to debate boycotting the Games altogether. The debate of the position of politics in sport and sport in politics began. Had Germany violated the Olympic ideal of inclusion by banning Jewish athletes from its teams? The IOC sought out a promise from the German national team to force inclusion, but that could only go so far. Jewish athletes were included in the trials up to the final cuts in many sports and then taken out at the last minute to appease Olympic regulations. A boycott was also seen as breaking Olympic protocol by bringing politics into the Games. The Jewish population was up in arms, and some countries did decide to pull their athletes out of competition. Barcelona decided to host a Popular or People’s Olympiad and offer an alternative to Berlin.
Barcelona’s alternative Games were set to run from July 19th to the 26th and would allow for people of all races, religions, and countries to participate. More than 6,000 athletes from 22 different countries were set to make the trip to Barcelona and compete in the Olimpiada Popular, People’s Olympics, but just two days before the Opening Ceremonies, the Civil War broke out. Fortunately, due to housing concerns for the athletes and estimated 20,000 spectators, no one was allowed to arrive in the city until the day before the events.
Little, if anything, is ever spoken about the Olympics the Never Were, but many of the claims and cries against hosting a Popular Olympics in Barcelona resurfaced ahead of the 1992 Games. Many people saw Barcelona’s attempt at a Popular Olympics as a way to host a “Cultural Olympics” more than oppose the Berlin Games. Because the Popular Olympics did not have to meet IOC standards, the plan was to have different teams created. A Jewish team was created, showing a stark contrast from the Berlin model. The biggest change was within Spain itself. The three Historic Nations: the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia were allowed to compete under separate flags.
This division was where the idea of a “Folkloric Games” began. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were to be filled with Catalan cultural events. Just as with the 1992 Olympic Games, the language issue became an important one. While countries showed interest in boycotting the Berlin Games, many simply saw Barcelona as trying to make a power play. We will never truly know the outcome because of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War that saw Spain under three years of fighting before returning to dictatorship under General Francisco Franco for almost 40 years. 1992 finally offered Barcelona a chance to show the world they too could host an Olympic event, and successfully.
Come find out more about 1936 Popular Olympics set for Barcelona on my Olympic Barcelona Tour. Extra dates and times have been added that coincide with the 1992 Olympics: between July 25th and August 9th!