Moments of Melbourne, Prologue - Wednesday, November 21st, 1956

Starting tomorrow, I will look back on the Melbourne 1956 Summer Olympics with daily highlights and news from 60 years ago. Today, I will begin with a prelude about the preparations.

"The friendly Games", as they were dubbed later, had a troubled preseason. Skepticism, financial bickering and political unrest marred the run up to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. At the eve before the opening ceremony, some clouds had disappeared, but some were still hovering over the first Games in the southern hemisphere.

Melbourne had been planning her bid for the Games since 1946. In July 1949, the IOC session in Rome awarded the Olympics to the Australian metropolis with the slightest possible margin. In the fourth round of the ballot, Melbourne edged out Buenos Aires by one single vote.

What followed was - nothing. The Australians wasted almost four years of preparation time with internal feuding over money. The main point of controversy was the site of the main stadium and who should pay for it. At first, organizers planned to revamp and enlarge Melbourne Showground or Carlton Cricket Ground. But as the government of the State of Victoria declined to give money for the project, the support of the federal government and the city of Melbourne was of no use as well. The whole project was cancelled and it was mainly due to the effort of Victoria State governor John Caine that finally, Melbourne Cricket Ground was enlarged up to 120,000 seats to host the main events.

The pictures show the original design for Melbourne's Olympic stadium - and how the scene finally looked on opening day (pictures: austadiums.com/bryanpinkall.blogspot.com).

But with the stadium question answered, other problems emerged. Due to strict Australian equine quarantine laws, the equestrian events ha do to be relocated to Stockholm in 1954. Instead of staging the Games at the end of October, they had to be held in the Australian summer in November and December, raising great doubts and concerns in Europe and America.

When  IOC president Avery Brundage visited Melbourne in April 1955, he lamented about "confusion" and threatened that the Games could easily be taken away from Melbourne, e.g. to a US city or Rome, which was host of the 1960 Games and far ahead of Melbourne with her preparations. The visit had its effect on the Australians. One year later,  most problems had been solved, especially the building of an Olympic village for 6500 persons at the suburb of Heidelberg (picture: abc.net.au).

Still, the troubles for Melbourne - brilliantly portrayed in the Australian TV documentary "Lies, Spies, and Olympics" - were far from over. The crises in Hungary and at the Suez Canal in the autumn of 1956 resulted in the first wave of Olympic boycotts. Finally, Egypt, Iraq, the Lebanon, the People's Republic of China, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland stayed home for different reasons.

The rest of the world came Down Under, but outside of Australia, nobody would be able to see the events. Although domestic TV had its Olympic premiere in 1956, viewers abroad were shut out due to unsolved broadcasting rights issues. The first world wide television Games had to wait for another four years.

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