THE GAMES OF THE VIth OLYMPIAD – THE 1916 OLYMPIC GAMES

There were Olympic Games scheduled for 1916, although they would never take place because of World War I.  The 1916 Olympic Games – the Games of the VIth Olympiad – were scheduled for Berlin, Germany.

Berlin had made a bid to host the 1908 Olympic Games but withdrew the bid at the 1904 IOC Session so that the vote for London could be unanimous.  It then moved forward its bid to the 1912 Olympics, and at the 1908 IOC Session in London the two candidate cities for 1912 were considered to be Berlin and Stockholm.  But at the 1909 IOC Session (in Berlin), Berlin announced that it could not host the 1912 Olympic Games and they were awarded to Stockholm.  The 1916 host city was discussed at the 1911 IOC Session but the decision was made at the 1912 Session in Stockholm.  Official bids had been returned from Berlin, Alexandria (EGY), and Budapest (HUN), but Alexandria and Budapest withdrew during the Session and Berlin was elected unanimously as the host city for the Games of the VIth Olympiad.

Germany had long since formed a National Olympic Committee, termed the Deutschen Reichsausschuß für Olympische Spiele (DRAfOS) (Germany Imperial Committee for the Olympic Games).  When the 1916 Olympic Games were awarded to Berlin, it began to develop an Organizing Committee as well.  The final form of the Executive Board of DRAfOS in 1913 was as follows:

Position Holder
Patron: Crownprince Wilhelm von Preußen
President: General Victor von Podbielski
Vice-President: Ulrich von Örtzen
Treasurer: Baron Julius von Hünefeld
1st Secretary: Dr. Paul Martin
2nd Secretary: P. Johannes Müller
Sec-Gen. for the Olympic Games: Kurt Roesler
Sec-Gen. for the 1916 Olympics: Dr. Carl Diem
IOC Members to Germany: Count Adalbert von Francken-Sierstorpff
Baron Karl von Venningen-Ullner von Diepburg

Germany also proceeded with the building of a great stadium to host the Olympic Games.  The design and construction had actually begun in 1911, prior to the bid for the 1916 Olympics being awarded to Berlin.  The stadium contained a 400-metre running track, surrounded by a 600-metre cycle track, with a 100-metre swimming pool at the north end of the stadium.  The stadium seated around 30,000 spectators.  Kaiser Wilhelm II dedicated the stadium on 8 June 1913, in celebration of his 25th anniversary as head of the German Reich.  A number of IOC Members were present at the dedication.  After various demonstrations and exhibitions of athletic events, General von Podbielski gave the closing speech, and urged the 3 million members of German athletic groups to put all their efforts into victory at the 1916 Olympics.

Plans proceded apace for the 1916 Olympic Games and a tentative program and schedule of events was announced.  This is documented in the only modern book fully devoted to the 1916 Olympic Games, Die VI. Olympischen Spiele Berlin 1916, by Prof. Dr. Karl Lennartz of the Carl-Diem-Institute in Köln, Germany.  The tentatively scheduled sports were as follows, and it is notable that the Germans planned to conduct both Summer and Winter Sports:

Summer Sports

Athletics (Track & Field), Cycling, Diving, Fencing, Football (Soccer), Golf, Gymnastics, Hockey (Field), Modern Pentathlon, Rowing, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Water Polo, Weightlifting, and Wrestling – Greco-Roman

Winter Sports

Figure Skating, Ice Hockey, Nordic Skiing, and Speed Skating

It is also possible that the Germans tried to organize a cricket tournament, although it did not make it to the final schedule.  In A History of Australian Cricket it was noted, “Another matter which occupied the minds of the delegates was an invitation from the German authorities to send a cricket team to compete in the 1916 Olympic Games which were scheduled to be held in Berlin.”

But the 1916 Olympic Games never came to pass, for fairly obvious reasons.  On 28 June 1914, in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The incident precipitated the war, and in July 1914, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  Germany soon joined with the Hapsburg Empire and declared war on Russia and France a few days later.  In August, Germany invaded Belgium and Great Britain then entered the war against Germany.

Incredibly, the Germans continued to make plans to host the 1916 Olympic Games, though they were met with opposition within the IOC as well.  British IOC Member Theodore Andrea Cook demanded the expulsion of the German members from the IOC.  When this was refused, Cook resigned from the IOC in protest.

Coubertin discussed these entreaties in Memoires Olympiques, “… barely two weeks had passed since the invasion of Belgium when I received proposals for ‘transferring’ the Games – at first somewhat vague plans but soon made more precise by a favourable move on the part of [James Edward] Sullivan, who had been one of the pillars of the recent Congress and whose loyalty now proved unshakeable.  He asked for instructions.  We could not hesitate.  An Olympiad may fail to be celebrated; its number remains.  This is the ancient tradition.  The Germans, who at that time believed in a rapid war and a sure victory, did not ask to be relieved of the Olympic mandate.  To make a move in favour of the United States or Scandinavia would have been to take a step whose outcome would have been difficult to foresee and to risk subsequent cracks in Olympic unity, without any advantage for anyone.  I therefore rejected any kind of action of this sort.”

The exact date when it was decided not to hold the 1916 Olympic Games has not been published in any available source.  But as late as mid-1915 the Germans were still making plans for the Olympics.  In March 1915, the DRAfOS reported to the IOC on its preparations, noting that “only nations allied with Germany and neutral countries would be invited.”

It was fortunate, given that ultimatum, that the Olympic Movement would wait until 1920 and Antwerp.

——————-

The above was modified from Appendix 4 from my book on the 1920 Olympic Games (with Tony Bijkerk) – The 1920 Olympic Games:  Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *