A Dozen Pictures of the Labour Olympiads


In the twenties, the Olympic games got their counterpart within the labour movement. Labour Olympiads took place in Frankfurt, Vienna and Antwerp. Workers played soccer, practised gymnastics and ran for world peace instead of the national honour.

As a result of the struggle for the 8 hour working day, workers had time for sport. Already in the beginning of the 20th century workers participated in games with comrades in neighbouring countries. Massive labour sport unions were founded in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and France. They strove to educate workers both physically and spiritually.

The Labour Olympiads (Arbeiter-Olympiade), organised by the Socialist Workers' Sport International (SASI), fit well with these ideals. Against the normal Olympic games, marked as 'a war between nations gained by sportive means', stood the solidarity of comrades in sport.
The labour sport unions disapproved of idols and records. At the labour games the anthem of the socialist international replaced the national anthem of the winning country. And only the red flag flew. Participation was more important than winning.
In 1925 Frankfurt am Main was the first host to the Labour Olympiad. It was a logical choice, as the German labour movement had produced a flourishing labour sport union. The number of participants was still limited but the mass demonstrations were impressive.
The second Olympiad in 1931 was more sizable. In socialist Vienna about 80,000 sportsmen and sportswomen came together. Against the background of the political threat of that time it became also a demonstration for world peace and international solidarity. The representatives of the Socialist International, who were holding their conference in Vienna at the same time, watched the participants marching by with peace slogans.
At the third Olympiad in Antwerp (1937) the struggle against fascism led to overtures towards the communists. Not everyone however enjoyed the participation of the Russians, certainly not as they brought new players from Moscow to win the soccer final. The highlight of the games was the arrival of the delegation from Spain. The comrades who fought the fascist troops of Franco were met with great acclaim.
The international solidarity between the workers did not survive the threat of war. The fourth labour Olympiad, Helsinki, 1943, never got beyond the planning stage.

More information on the Labour Olympiads can be found in the archival collections of both the Socialist International (SAI) and Harry Stapel. Our online catalogue holds various brochures and visual materials.

Eric de Ruijter