There once was an alternative to the Olympic Games

Contributed by Glen Davies

I enjoyed the Olympics, watching the World’s best athletes perform against each other in their chosen sports.

I’m aware of the jingoism, and rampant nationalism, so inherent in these events. But to see the world’s best athletes perform in front of global audience is something billions around the world look up to, and during a pandemic it gives us relief from the ongoing trauma confronting us.

It Is also a very lucrative business, as the big corporations are extremely happy seeing their names advertised alongside the athletes, while seeking to bask in the glory of the games. Though host nation Japan is looking at in outlay in minimum of $20 billion, there are those who have done well out of it.

There were 120 advertisers putting their name to the event. Coca Cola, Google, Samsung, were among the sponsors, after a healthy return for their sponsorship.

What if there was a sporting event untarnished by commercial interests? Let’s cast our minds back to the Spartakiads. There were five International Spartakiads held between 1928 & 1937; Their origins were from the myriad of worker sporting groups existing in the early 20th century across the globe.

The first local Spartakiad took place in the Soviet Union (USSR) at Petrograd in 1923, and it became an international event after this. The name came from Spartacus, the leader of the rebellious slaves in  ancient Rome. It was these games become a symbol of sporting workers, and a counter to the aristocratic and capitalist nature of the Olympics.

Going to the first Spartakiad games held in Moscow during 1920

February 1928 saw the first International Spartakiad, beginning with the inaugural Winter event conducted in Oslo, and Summer Spartakiad took place in Moscow, in August of the same year.

Berlin in 1931 hosted the second International Summer Spartakiad. Oslo was again the host for the next Winter games in 1936. The next Spartakiad was to be in Barcelona, capital of the Catalan region of in Spain. 1936 People’s Olympiad and counter to the Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany. But this was to be. Fascist forces sought to overthrow the democratically elected Republican government and the country descended into a bloody civil war.

In 1937 the last summer Spartakiad took place at Antwerp in Belgium. Then came the Second World War in the 1940’s.

Poster from the 1928 Spartakiad

After the War,  the USSR joined as a participant in the Olympics, and over the next few decades, Spartakiad was reduced to the Eastern Bloc nations. They lost their international character and their symbolism as an alternative to the Olympics.

It’s also worth being aware of the International Workers Olympiad organised by the Social Democratic Parties. They ran from 1925 until 1937.

Poster for the Workers’ Summer Olympiad held in Vienna in 1931

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