Workers' Olympics

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Internationalist competitive sport events organized by the Socialist International movement in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. The label ‘internationalist’ is a precise one, as the Workers' Olympics were conceived in ideological opposition to the modern Olympic Games, in which the competition is organized on the basis of the nation state, and whose amateur ethos privileged the well-off and the upper classes. The workers' sports movement opposed elite participation, and ‘invited all-comers, putting the accent on mass participation, as well as extending events to include poetry and song, drama, artistic displays, political lectures and pageantry’ (James Riordan, ‘The Workers' Olympics’, in Alan Tomlinson and Garry Whannel, eds, Five-Ring Circus: Money, Power and Politics at the Olympic Games, 1984). Three such events were held, in Frankfurt, Germany (1925), Vienna, Austria (1931), and Antwerp, Belgium, in 1937. The third event had been planned for Barcelona in 1936, but on the morning of the scheduled opening ceremony the Spanish Civil War was started by the fascist military putsch. A fourth event, planned for Helsinki, Finland, in 1943, was a victim of World War II. The first two events were organized by Lucerne Sport International (LSI), a branch of the Bureau of the Socialist International; for the third one, this socialist body cooperated with Moscow's communist Red Sport International, a branch of the Communist International (Comintern). The 1931 Vienna event attracted 80,000 worker-athletes from 23 countries, and the socialist Viennese government constructed a new stadium. For a brief period, the Workers' Olympics represented an effective mix of sport and political cultures.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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