In 1931 the Olympic Summer Games of 1936 was given to Berlin, Germany. This was about two years before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor. Germany was governed by a rightist coalition led by Heinrich Brüning. Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) came into power in January, 1933 and within half a year most of the German democratic institutions had ceased to exist. When the time for the Olympic Games came closer, resistance against the Berlin Games grew. Many feared that Hitler and the NSDAP would take the opportunity and make these games into a huge manifestation of the ideology of the new regime. When the Popular Front in Spain won the election early in 1936 the idea of an alternative Summer Olympic Games, the People’s Olympic Games (Olimpiada Popular) in Barcelona, was established.
The new Spanish government decided to not send any participants to Berlin and instead fully concentrate on their own games. The expense of the games would be shared by the Spanish Government, the Government of Catalonia and the city of Barcelona. Several activities were planned besides the sports event; chess, folkdance, music, theatre, etcâ€¦ An invitation to participate went to countries all over the world. The foreign troops would be placed in the hotels that had been constructed for the Barcelona World Fair in 1929 (the Swedish troop would stay at Hotel Olimpi (!), Plaza Espagna in Barcelona).
The International Sports Federations (IF) did not know how to deal with this conflicting situation, two Olympic Games the same summer, so they let the different individual federations deal with the situation. When asked by France, the International Sports Federation announced that they didn’t see any problem with two games since they were not at the same time. The Barcelona Games was between the 19th and 26th of July. The Berlin Games started a few days later – August 1st.
A few days before the games should start about 6000 participants were registered from 22 different nations. Spain had registered more than 4000 participants. France sent a fairly large troop. Some other participating nations were the US, England, Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Algeria.
The Norwegian Workers Sport Association (AIF) got money from the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget (22 300 Norwegian Kroner), which made it possible for them to send some 25 participants. In Sweden a special Barcelona Committee was formed by the Swedish Workers Sport Association (AIF).
Approximately thirty individual Workers Sport Associations round the country were affiliated with RF (The Swedish Sports Confederation) in 1929. Two years prior to this, 1927, a federation for the Workers Sport Associations affiliated with the Swedish Sports Confederation had been founded (AIS). In December 1929 these individual Worker Associations demanded to be able to leave the Swedish Sports Confederation and a competing organization, the Workers Sport Association, was formed influenced by some of our Nordic neighbours, especially Finland, where the Workers Sport Association (TUL) already had a long tradition. The primary reason with the new association was to strengthen the Workers movement, because sports in these days were thought to be too dominated by the bourgeoisie. That’s why it was necessary to completely break out of the established Sports Confederation. AIF did not participate in the ordinary Swedish Masterships; they had their own AIF Masterships.
Their major task was to invite and register participants. The Swedish Social Democratic Party had the opposite view of the Workers Sport Association. The Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson called AIF an “unswedish organization” and banned all members of the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) and the Swedish Social Democratic Youth (SSU) from joining them. This was an obstacle for several athletes. Another obstacle was that some of the national federations such as the Swedish Walk Federation (Svenska Gångförbundet) threatened with lifetime disqualification for any walker who went to Spain! A third obstacle was poor economy. The Swedish Workers Sport Association was small and had a very limited budget. They did not receive any money from the Swedish Government and therefore had to rely on subscription and the individual organizations’ contributions. This money was enough to send a troop of twelve people; ten athletes, one chess player and one leader. All the athletes belonged to the Swedish elite. A few of them were or had been Swedish Masters in their discipline.
Folke Tiderman, chairman of AIF, was the leader of the Swedish troop. The other eleven participants were; Henry Forsberg, middle-distance runner and eventually 50km walk (organization = Hammarby IF), Onni Niskanen, middle-distance runner (organization = Typografernas IK), Evert Johansson, long-distance runner (organization = Storfors IF), Arne Lönnström, middle-distance runner (organization = Örby SK), Edvin Nylander, 50km walk (organization = Solna AIF), Olle Lindkvist, boxing middle-weight (organization = Hisingens Boxningsklubb), Henry Pettersson, boxing welter-weight (organization = Huvudsta Boxningsklubb), Sven Thor, cycling road race (organization = CK Fyrishov), Rudolf “Rulle” Gustavsson, cycling road race (organization = CK Fyrishov), Olle Pettersson, swimming 100 and 400 meters (organization = Arbetarnas Simklubb Stockholm) and Harald Nydahl, chess (organization = Arbetarnas Schackklubb). Harald Nydahl would also function as the interpreter of the Swedish troop.
The troop left the Stockholm Central Station by train late Saturday evening the 18th of July. Several hundred people had come to cheer and wish them good luck. They reached Paris the next day. There they found out that the Spanish Nationalists under General José Sanjurjo and Emilio Mola (after Sanjurjo died in a plane crash the 20th of July) had started a rebellion against the Spanish Republic. Instead of a People’s Olympic Games with sports, chess, folkdance, music and theatre during a week in July, Spain was now involved in a bloody civil war that lasted until 1939.
The People’s Olympic Games and the military coup
Just a few weeks before the opening of the Berlin Olympic Games a so-called People’s Olympic Games started in Barcelona. Although it had a great number of participants it has become one of the footnotes of History. This was not only because the general interest was focused on Berlin, but also because it came to coincide with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
The People’s Olympic Games was arranged by the Spanish Popular Front Government who had come into power in February, and it was supported by the socialistic and communistic Working Parties as well as the Spanish Liberals. In their invitations they appealed especially to the Worker Associations and the Unions. The games opened the 17th of July. Nearly 4000 participants from 14 different countries had by then gathered in Barcelona. Even Sweden sent a delegation to the People’s Olympic Games. During spring the Workers Sport Associations had arranged the “anti-Berlin Olympic Games” with participants from all over Scandinavia. The delegation never reached Barcelona. When they came to Paris they found out that the borders to Spain were closed.
Anders Hagström 17/1 2004
Social-Demokraten (Thursday, 23rd July 1936) – Swedish News Paper
'The participants of the Workers Olympic Games being gathered and sent home'
French Workers Athletes are being picked up
The two French passenger steamships, who should have picked up participating athletes and tourists to the planned Workers Olympic Games, has yet not been able to leave Barcelona because of difficulties in gathering all the passengers. One of the ships is expected to leave during the evening and the other one tomorrow. (page 5)
Dagens Nyheter (Thursday, 23rd July 1936) – One of the biggest Swedish Morning News Papers
'The War stops the “People’s Olympic Games”'
A Swedish athletes troop of a dozen men left Stockholm this Saturday to travel to the Workers so-called People’s Olympic Games in Barcelona the 19th-26th July. The disturbances in Spain forced the troop to discontinue the trip in Paris, where they now wait to see if the situation in Spain will improve.
Norwegians and Danes were quicker than the Swedes and they are already in Barcelona, where, according to the information we received, they must remain inside their hotels.
In Port-Vendres there are some thirty French athletes who should have participated in the so-called People’s Olympic Games in Barcelona. They are awaiting further instructions. Two French torpedo-boats have anchored in the harbour.
Two French passenger steamships that should have brought home participating athletes and tourists of the planned Workers Olympic Games, have not yet been able to leave Barcelona because of difficulties in gathering all the passengers.´