This week in history: Peoples’ Olympiad protests Berlin Olympics of 1936

The Peoples’ Olympiad (Olimpíada Popular in Spanish) was a planned international multi-sport event that was intended to take place in Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia within the Spanish Republic. It was conceived as a protest against the 1936 Summer Olympics being held in Berlin during Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc in Barcelona was intended to be the main stadium for the games.

In 1931, the International Olympic Committee had selected Berlin, then the capital of Germany in the time of the Weimar Republic, to host the 1936 Summer Olympics. Berlin had defeated Barcelona, which was also vying to host the games, by 43 votes to 16. During that same year, Spain had adopted a republican constitution. King Alfonso XIII went into exile, and Catalonia was declared an autonomous region.

Following the 1936 general election in Spain, the newly elected left-wing Popular Front government decided that Spain would boycott the Berlin Olympics in now-fascist Germany and host its own games. Invitations were extended to many different countries, and it was planned to use the hotels built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition as an Olympic-style village. The games were scheduled from July 19 to 26 and would have ended six days prior to the start of the Berlin games. In addition to the usual sporting events, the Barcelona games would also have featured chess, folkdancing, music and theatre.

A total of 6,000 athletes from 22 nations registered for the games. The largest contingents of athletes came from the U.S., the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and French colonial Algeria. There were also teams from Germany and Italy made up of political exiles from those countries. Teams also registered representing Jewish exiles from fascism, the French département of Alsace, and the Spanish regions of Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Many of the athletes were sent by trade unions, workers’ clubs and associations, socialist and communist parties and left-wing groups rather than by state-sponsored committees.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out just as the games were to begin, the alternate games had to be canceled. Some athletes never made it to Barcelona as the borders had been closed, while many who already were in the city made a hasty exit. However, at least 200 of the athletes, such as the anarchist Clara Thalmann, remained in Spain and joined workers’ militias that were organized to defend the Second Spanish Republic against Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s nationalists. 

Barcelona would later host the 1992 Summer Olympics, after the Spanish transition to democracy that followed the end of the Franco dictatorship.

Adapted from Wikipedia and other sources.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.