The 1936 Berlin Olympics constituted the greatest sporting and political event of the interwar period. Athletes from democratic states competed against athletes from regimes whose ideologies held strength and violence as their cardinal virtues (the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy, military Japan). Not only did campaigns to boycott the Berlin Games fail, but the Reich climbed to top place on the podium.
From that moment on, European sport entered a decade of tragedy. International sporting competitions took place under the constant shadow of the march to war. In fascist regimes and occupied countries, Jewish and Gypsy athletes were persecuted, as were members of the workers’ sport movement. The Olympic ideal was tarnished, and a “new sporting Europe” sketched out. However, sport also provided a form of distraction for oppressed populations, and became a source of psychological strength for prisoners and resistance fighters. After the war, in 1948, the London Olympics were held under the twin banners of austerity and hope.
Patrick Clastres, Science Po Centre for History.