The Distant Fight against Communist Sport: Refugee Sports Organizations in America and the International Olympic Committee

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Introduction

In the years that followed the end of the Second World War, there was a dramatic increase in nations committed to socialism. (1) A great majority of these nations, particularly in Eastern Europe, were satellites of the Soviet Union, bound to the political and ideological tone set in the Kremlin. As the world recovered itself after one war, it waited only briefly for another. The Cold War was altogether different from its predecessor. With the chance of a full scale "hot" war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union very much a last resort, the two superpowers used a wide range of methods to forward the conflicting political agendas each wanted for the world order. In this context, culture played a significant role in creating the impression that one ideological system was more preferable to another. On both sides, too, this cultural punch and counterpunch involved sport. Sport became a distinctive feature of Marxist-Leninist governments and a forum to display the superiority of communism as opposed to Western capitalism. Nowhere was this situation so clear than at the Olympic Games. Soviet sports officials looked upon the Olympics as the best possible setting for their athletes to prove an ideological point. (2) The Soviet bloc followed suit. But where sport became a site for promoting communist propaganda, it became also a site to resist it. This study will focus on three organizations that used sport as a means of expressing opposition to communism. The Ukrainian World Committee for Sport Affairs, the Sports Union of Free Cuba, and the Hungarian National Sports Federation all operated out of offices in the United States, and each was formed by political exiles. (3) Each of these groups embraced aims relative to the political situation of their respective countries and that of their ethnic communities in America. This was expressed in the specific form of "ethnic anti-communism." Even if their methods differed somewhat, all of the groups used sport to denounce and disturb the communist regimes of their homeland. To execute their mandates, one sporting organization in particular captured their attention: the International Olympic Committee (IOC). How and why each of the three anticommunist groups were preoccupied with the Olympic Games will be discussed, as will why the Games were seen as such an important arena for the expression of their beliefs.

As a delimitation, I have restricted the study to the years when Avery Brundage was President of the IOC; that is, from 1952-1972. During Brundage's tenure, the Cold War arrived in the IOC after the recognition of the Soviet Union as a member in 1951. Brundage was an obvious target for exiled sports groups based in the U.S., not only due to his position in the IOC, but because he was an American citizen, and also anti-communist. It will be shown that the IOC was, in theory, an ideal place to lobby for the exiles, though it never ended being so. Brundage and his colleagues at the IOC acknowledged the work of these exile groups, some more than others, but refused to satisfy their primary aims. Contrary to their hopes, Brundage was never prepared to toss communist countries out of the Olympic Movement due to demands from a minority in exile, and when satisfying other requests meant threatening the Olympic Movement, the Movement won on every occasion.

Refugees and Ethnic Anti-Communism in America

Soviet influence in Eastern Europe expanded after 1945. A great many in the region correctly believed that communist governments were set to take control so they streamed over borders into Western Europe, especially the American occupied zones, West Berlin, or anywhere they thought safe. This exasperated the refugee crisis that already existed due to the people made homeless by the war. Millions roamed Europe. (4) In 1948 and 1950, the U.S. government passed the Displaced Persons Acts which facilitated over 400,000 Europeans to enter American borders. …