Workers' Olympiad

As the concept of amateurism existed in part to banish manual laborers from competing against the upper classes, it is not surprising that the rise of international Socialism in the early 20th century also brought dedicated sports clubs for workers. World War I thwarted the first attempt to organize workers’ sports internationally, but the organisation reformed in 1920. Although it originally lacked the word “socialist” in its name, it was renamed to the Socialist Workers’ Sport International in 1926, better known by its German acronym SASI (Sozialistische Arbeiter Sport Internationale). The organization was frequently plagued by political squabbling, and the communists soon seceded from SASI, joining the Sportintern (see Spartakiad). The first major event held by SASI was a gymnastics festival organized in Prague in 1921 to celebrate the third anniversary of the nation of Czechoslovakia. Twelve countries sent competitors, and the event (confusingly known as the Spartakiáda) became a precursor of the Workers’ Olympiad, which were to be held in six-year intervals. The first edition was held in 1925 in Frankfurt am Main (Germany), with the winter competitions held in Schreiberhau (now Szklarska Poręba, Poland). The second Olympiad was held in Austria, with the main event held in Wien (Vienna) and Mürzzuschlag staging the winter events. In 1936, SASI organized a distinct People’s Olympiad in Barcelona, which could not be held when the Spanish Civil War broke out just days before the Opening Ceremony. Antwerpen, Belgium, hosted the 3rd edition of the Workers’ Olympiad in 1937, with winter competitions taking place in Janské Lázně (Czechoslovakia). A fourth edition was planned for Helsinki (Finland) in 1943, but like the Olympic Games to be held there in 1940, these were cancelled due to World War II. These Workers’ Olympiads were well attended by both athletes and public. The 1931 edition claimed 80,000 competitors, with mass running, swimming and gymnastic events being held. The movement was primarily European, although it also had affiliations in, for example, Palestine and the United States. The majority of members were from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and SASI suffered major blows when their affiliates were forbidden by the right-wing governments of Germany (1933) and Austria (1934). SASI vanished during World War II, but was reborn as the International Workers’ Sports Confederation (CSIT; Comité Sportif International du Travail) in 1946. But no new Workers’ Olympiads were ever held, and by 1952 even the Soviet Union had started competing in the Olympic Games. The CSIT still exists, and has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1986. It still aims to bring together the working population through sports, but is no longer as politically motivated as in the past.