Recycling history

The International Olympic Committee awarded Germany the 1936 Games before Hitler came to power.
But once German Chancellor, he seized the Olympics as a powerful propaganda tool.
Governments, including those of the United States and the UK, rejected calls for a boycott, even though Jewish athletes had been removed from Germany’s Olympic and Davis Cup teams.
However, international opposition to the Berlin games was great and it is a little known fact that ‘counter-Olympics’ were planned in a number of places.
The biggest of these was to be in Spain. History has forgotten it, not least because the proposed People’s Olympiad never took place.
In the summer of 1936 Spain saw the rise of its own branch of fascism. General Franco moved to seize power and the Spanish Civil War began.
The People’s Olympiad had to be cancelled.
Seven decades on, though, and with another Olympics underway, the spirit of the event is being recalled.
Members of the National Clarion Cycling Club had been expected to take part in the alternative Olympiad in Spain.
After it was cancelled – and with the war in full swing – two decided to undertake an amazing ride from Glasgow to Barcelona to raise money for the Spanish Republic (two other club members were to be killed in the civil war).
That was in 1938. On Wednesday, July 30, 2008, a group of 14 riders left Scotland to begin a 20-day ride on the cyclists’ 70-year-old trail.
They are due to arrive in Barcelona on Tuesday, August 19.
Anna Martí and publisher Alan Warren, who have done so much to keep alive the memory of Welsh veterans of the Spanish Civil War, are on the team.
Maite de Paul Otxotorena, who was born in Spain’s Basque country but now lives near Ammanford, is there in support and has organised the Spanish leg of the route.
Maite says the event ties together not only the 1936 Olympics and those currently being held in Beijing (which have been controversial in their own way too) but also Barcelona’s Games in 1992.
“I was a child in Franco’s military Spain when our memory of our history had been lost,” she says. “Events like the 1992 Olympics and the Expo put an international focus on Spain. People started to research our history.
“But as I have been contacting the mayors and the cycling clubs in the places we will be travelling through no one has heard of the other Olympics planned for 1936.
“Events like this are part of the end of our amnesia.”
I spoke to Anna Martí before the ride as she took a break in her training for the 2,000km journey.
“I have been told to take plenty of clothes for Scotland,” she told me. “But when we get to Spain we come through an area which is like a desert.
“It will be like cycling towards the centre of the Earth.”
:: First published in The Big Issue Cymru, July 28, 2008

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: