Reasons why these countries and individuals boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics

While there were widespread calls for boycotts of the 1936 Berlin Olympics due to the Nazi regime’s policies, especially their treatment of Jews and their militaristic ambitions, most nations ultimately chose to participate. However, there were a few exceptions and nuances.

Various countries, including the UK, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, and the US, saw movements to boycott or move the Games. German exiles opposing Hitler also protested against the Olympics using platforms like pro-Communist newspapers. Despite these protests, the Games went ahead with 49 teams participating, marking the highest number of participating nations in any Olympics up to that time.

Due to the racial policies and military ambitions of the Nazi regime, there were calls to boycott the Berlin Olympics. Many saw participation in the games as an endorsement of Hitler’s policies.

Below is a list of the countries and individuals that boycotted the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Nazi Germany:


The most notable country to fully boycott the 1936 Games was Spain. Instead of attending the Berlin Olympics, Spain decided to host a “People’s Olympiad” in Barcelona as a protest against the Nazi regime.

This event attracted approximately 6,000 athletes from 49 different delegations. However, the People’s Olympiad was never realized, as the Spanish Civil War broke out just a day before the event was scheduled to commence, leading to its cancellation.

Spanish Civil War Facts

Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War just a day before the People’s Olympiad was set to start resulted in its cancellation.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union, after participating in the 1920 Olympics, refrained from participating in subsequent international sporting events, including the Olympics. The ongoing Russian Civil War meant the Soviet government wasn’t invited to the 1920 Games, and afterwards, they chose not to participate in the Olympics from 1924 onwards due to ideological differences.

Instead of the Olympics, the Soviet Union opted for an alternative sporting event for left-wing workers called the Spartakiad, which began in 1928. This event was managed by the Red Sport International, an international association of left-wing sports organizations. The USSR had planned to take part in the People’s Olympiad in Barcelona, an alternative to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but it was cancelled due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. However, the Soviets did participate in the 1937 Workers’ Summer Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium, another event sponsored by the Spartakiad.

It wasn’t until 1952 that the Soviet Union rejoined the Olympic Games. This decision was driven by Soviet leadership who saw the Olympics as an opportunity to promote their political and ideological beliefs on an international stage.

The Soviet Union did not participate, but this wasn’t strictly a boycott. The USSR did not compete in the Olympics until the 1952 Helsinki Games. Image: Flag of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a federal union of 15 national republics. Governance and management of the economy were highly centralized affair. Covering more than 22 million square kilometers (8.6 million square miles), the Soviet Union was by far the largest country in the world.

Individual Boycotts

While the U.S. officially participated, there were individual Jewish athletes from the U.S. who chose to boycott, such as runners Milton Green and Norman Cahners. Also South African track and field athlete Sid Kiel withdrew in opposition to the German regime’s antisemitism.

Jewish fencer Albert Wolff qualified for the French Olympic Team but chose to boycott the 1936 Summer Olympics due to Adolf Hitler’s sponsorship of the event, stating, “I cannot participate in anything sponsored by Adolf Hitler, even for France.”

In this 1935 political cartoon crafted by the Jewish British illustrator, John Henry Amshewitz, Nazi athletes are depicted stomping over the essence of the Olympic spirit. They march ominously past a concentration camp that imprisons, notably, Jewish individuals and a “non-political sportsman”. Meanwhile, the tree symbolizing the purity of sport is being hacked by the menacing axe labeled “Nazi justice”.

Alternative Participation

Some Jewish groups, like the Maccabi, organized alternative events. The Maccabiah Games in what was then British Mandate Palestine in 1935 can be seen as a precursor event to the 1936 Olympics.

Partial Boycotts

A few other countries, like France and the United Kingdom, had internal divisions over participation. Some groups within these countries called for boycotts, but the official national teams still participated.

Official poster of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany


It’s essential to understand that the 1936 Olympics were a significant propaganda success for the Nazis, despite the calls for boycotts. Hitler used the Games to present a more favorable, peaceful image of Nazi Germany to the world, even though the reality was vastly different. The boycott movement, while important, was fragmented and did not manage to have the global impact that some had hoped for.

Frequently asked questions

The 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin from August 1 to August 16, are one of the most historically significant and politically charged events in Olympic history. Image: Emblem of the 1936 Summer Olympics

Why did the American team participate in Berlin 1936 despite strong opposition from many American Jewish organizations?

It is important to note that a good number of African-American newspapers predominantly supported the Olympics, believing that African-American victories would counteract Nazi views of Aryan supremacy and bolster black pride.

On the other hand, major American Jewish organizations opposed the Games. Groups like the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee held rallies, advocated for a boycott of German products, and organized the World Labor Athletic Carnival in New York as a protest against the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

Avery Brundage, the president of the United States Olympic Committee during the time leading up to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, played a significant role in the decision for the U.S. to participate in the Games. Initially, Brundage had reservations about the Games taking place in Nazi Germany, mainly due to the regime’s discriminatory practices and policies. However, as debates and controversies grew over the moral implications of participating in the Berlin Olympics, Brundage became a vocal advocate for keeping sports separate from politics.

His primary argument was that “politics has no place in sport.” Brundage believed that the Olympic Games should be purely about athletic competition and that athletes should not be burdened by the political disputes and controversies of their respective nations. He felt that the Games should rise above political disagreements and remain a platform for showcasing athletic excellence, irrespective of the host nation’s policies.

Then-President of the US Olympic Committee Avery Brudage’s stance was controversial, especially given the Nazi regime’s widespread human rights abuses and its efforts to use the Games as a propaganda tool. Nevertheless, Brundage’s influence was pivotal in the U.S. decision to send a team to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Avery Brundage meeting mayor of Berlin Julius Lippert and IOC German Secretary Theodor Lewald in 1936

Brundage succeeded in persuading the Amateur Athletic Union to vote in favor of sending an American team to the Berlin Olympics, rendering the voices that supported boycott unsuccessful.

Although US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration refrained from intervening, due to a custom of letting the US Olympic Committee operate autonomously, some American diplomats, such as William E. Dodd and George Messersmith, criticized the decision to participate in the Games.

Did Germany allow any Jew to compete in the Games?

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin took place amid political tensions due to the rise of the Nazi Party. Despite international calls for a boycott due to the Nazis’ racist policies, the International Olympic Committee secured promises from Germany about the inclusion of Jewish athletes and non-promotion of Nazi ideology.

However, Germany largely did not honor these commitments, with only one athlete of Jewish descent on their team and widespread Nazi propaganda at the event. Despite the political climate, the allure of the Games drew 49 countries to participate.

How did Jesse Owens’ triumph highlight the fallacy of racial superiority?

The performance of American athlete Jesse Owens was a pivotal moment in the history of sports and civil rights. Owens’ four gold medals in track and field not only shattered Hitler’s claims of Aryan supremacy but also stood as a powerful symbol of racial equality and human potential. Owens’ success highlighted the fallacy of racial superiority theories promoted by the Nazis.

One of the most iconic figures from these games is Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete. Owens won four gold medals in track and field, defying the Nazi narrative of Aryan superiority. He clinched gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and long jump events. His victories are still remembered as a powerful counter-narrative to Nazi propaganda.

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