The Olympic Games : mid-twentieth century (1948-1972) / by Kevin B. Witherspoon

Witherspoon, Kevin B.

Edited by The Olympic Studies Centre - 2024

The period from 1948 to 1972 was a time of great growth and expansion of the Olympic Movement, but also a time filled with challenges and controversy. Early in these years, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) grappled with questions about how best to revive the Olympic Games in the aftermath of World War II. Key issues in the immediate post-war years included selection of host cities, how and when to honour the hosting designations that had been cancelled during the war, and the readmission of belligerent nations. As the period progressed, the growing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union took centre stage, and the IOC wrestled with issues such as whether and when to admit Soviet athletes, how to handle apparent breaches of the amateur ideal by “state athletes” of the Eastern bloc, and sporadic instances of hostility on the fields of sport. In the later years of the period, the globalisation and expansion of the Olympic Games predominated, as host cities included Rome, Tokyo, and Mexico City, and the number of athletes and participating nations grew dramatically. The Olympic Movement also confronted the spasm and tumult of the era, as the chaos of the year 1968 struck the Mexico City Olympic Games, first in the form of a violent attack against peaceful student protesters ten days before the Opening Ceremony, and then in the form of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in protest on the medal stand as part of a broader wave of protest known as “the revolt of the black athlete.” Finally, as the period came to a close, the Olympics endured their most jarring episode, the terrorist attack against the Israeli team at the Munich Games in 1972. That attack, and the ensuing decision by IOC President Avery Brundage to resume the Games soon after, signaled the end of Brundage’s presidency, and the end of an era in Olympic history.

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