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Politics and the Olympics: Hungary's 'extra national burden', 1956

Every four years, the countries of the world gather to celebrate athletic achievement in an atmosphere of international cooperation. That is the goal of the Olympic Games, yet rare has been the Olympiad that is totally free of politics. Adolf Hitler used the Games as an Aryan showcase in 1936, and a string of politically motivated boycotts in the 1970s and '80s threatened to kill the Olympic movement. The Games rebounded, but in 2008 the spectre of boycott returned as protesters sought to use the Beijing Games as a political platform.

The 1956 Olympics are just three weeks away when Soviet tanks roll into Budapest to suppress a revolution in Hungary. In protest of the Soviet action, three nations withdraw from the Games: Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. But Hungary, which placed third in the Olympic rankings in 1952, is still sending a team. In this clip from CBC Radio, a reporter in Melbourne for the Games says the troubling events at home may mean Hungarian athletes will compete "against their own mental attitude."
• A political protest over the Suez Crisis also prompted Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt to pull out of the 1956 Olympics.

• The Soviet-Hungary conflict found its way into the Olympic Games during a water polo semifinal. The game turned bloody when a Soviet player head-butted a Hungarian player, leading to the officials' decision to end the game and hand Hungary a 4-0 win.

• The Soviet Union, which was formed in 1922, first began participating in the Olympics in 1952. At their second Games in 1956 they ranked first in the medal count. Hungary placed fourth.

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Nov. 21, 1956
Host: Bill McNeil
Reporter: George Gross
Duration: 2:56
Photo: Photo of Hungarian troops defecting, hungary1956.com

Last updated: July 10, 2012

Page consulted on February 7, 2014

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