The Olympics 1936 to 1948: Grandeur to Austerity

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd is a book about tourists, business people, students, and diplomats who were in Germany in the 1930s. What did they think, what did they notice? Mostly they didn’t notice much. They did little mental gymnastics to avoid characterising the rise of the Nazi state for what it was.

We all know how the black American Jesse Owens was cold-shouldered when he got Gold in the Berlin Olympics.

But a snippet about the Olympics that caught my attention was after the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games the head of the British Foreign Office, Sir Robert Vansittart, commented on the grandeur of the design, and that the stupendous cost made him thankful that Britain had relinquished its claim to the next Olympiad in favour of Japan.

In the event, the 1940 Olympic Games never happened. The Japanese pulled out in 1938 because they were otherwise engaged with the Second Sino-Japanese War that broke out in 1937.

The Games were then to go to Finland, the runners-up to the original bid. The Helsinki Games were cancelled, though, because of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. 

The 1944 Olympic Games were due to be held in London, but were cancelled due to World War II.

The 1948 Olympic Games were held in London, and were known as the Austerity Games because Britain was nearly bankrupted by the war.

Food was still rationed in Britain, and would be until 1952. Things were so bad that the Government had to issue regulations to allow the athletes at the Olympics to be fed more than twice the UK national rationing allowance. 

Some countries didn’t attend the 1948 Games.

Germany and Japan were not permitted to send any athletes to the 1948 Olympics, and the Soviet Union didn’t send any athletes because of the deterioration in East-West relations.