Work­ers’ cyclists adver­tise their clubs. The ban­ner reads: Work­ers, out of the bour­geois sports clubs


In 1913, work­ers’ sports fed­er­a­tions had unit­ed for the first time on an inter­na­tion­al lev­el. How­ev­er, due to the First World War, the “Asso­ci­a­tion social­iste inter­na­tionale d’É­d­u­ca­tion physique” (ASIEP) hard­ly appeared. Re-found­ed in 1920 as the “Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion for Sport and Phys­i­cal Cul­ture” and renamed the “Social­ist Work­ers’ Sport Inter­na­tion­al (SASI)” in 1928, the asso­ci­a­tion wrote the fol­low­ing goals on its red flags:

- Pro­mo­tion of work­ers’ health
- Inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty of work­ers
- Fight against nation­al­ism and mil­i­tarism
- Sport­ing alter­na­tives to record-break­ing and commercialism.

In order to achieve these goals, the fed­er­a­tion organ­ised three “Work­ers’ Olympiads” in the 1920s and 1930s. They were intend­ed as an alter­na­tive to the Olympic Games — because these only served the com­pe­ti­tion of nations and were “war by sport­ing means”.
In 1921, the SASI had com­pe­ti­tion from with­in its own camp in the form of the RSI: the “Red Sports Inter­na­tion­al” found­ed in Moscow was com­mu­nist in ori­en­ta­tion and organ­ised its own major sport­ing event with the “Inter­na­tion­al Spar­taki­ade”. It was only when the Nazis were on the advance through­out Europe that social democ­ra­cy and com­mu­nists found their way back together.


Work­ers’ Olympiads vs. Olympic Games (1925–1937)

 Worker’s OlympiadsOlympic Games
March­ing in of the nationsyesyes
Singing of the nation­al anthemnoyes
Nation­al flagsnoyes
Pop­u­lar sports in the programmeyesno
Offers for childrenyesno
Par­tic­i­pa­tion of womenyesno
Cul­tur­al programmeyesno


Why have work­ers’ asso­ci­a­tions at all?

There was a rea­son why work­ers in many coun­tries set up their own cul­tur­al and sport­ing organ­i­sa­tions: they did not want them in the bour­geois asso­ci­a­tions — and they were kept out of the door by statutes or high con­tri­bu­tions. As in the Aus­tri­an, the Ger­man work­ers’ par­ties were ini­tial­ly scep­ti­cal and feared that the com­rades would no longer have time for the class struggle.

1st Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Olympiads, Frank­furt a. M., 24–28.07.1925

The first Work­ers’ Olympics was held under the mot­to “Nev­er again war”. Frank­furt am Main was cho­sen as the venue because the city was cen­tral­ly locat­ed in Europe and had good trans­port and infra­struc­ture facil­i­ties. Because none of the rel­e­vant asso­ci­a­tions had their head­quar­ters there, an “organ­is­ing com­mit­tee” was set up, which was divid­ed into eight spe­cial­ist com­mit­tees. A total of 500 offi­cials and 5,000 assis­tants were involved in the plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion. A sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion was made by the RKB “Sol­i­dar­ität”, the adult fed­er­a­tion of the Soli­ju­gend, which even then had its head­quar­ters near­by, only ten kilo­me­tres from the site of the event.

The Work­ers’ Olympiads was the first major inter­na­tion­al event in the new­ly built “Wald­sta­dion” (now the “Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt” foot­ball club) — almost 40,000 spec­ta­tors watched the action as 1,100 ath­letes from Eng­land, Fin­land, Czecho­slo­va­kia and Switzer­land, Latvia, Aus­tria, Bel­gium, Pales­tine, Poland and Ger­many marched in. In the fol­low­ing days, they com­pet­ed in ath­let­ics, heavy ath­let­ics (wrestling, weightlift­ing, box­ing, tug-of-war), foot­ball, swim­ming, cycling, gym­nas­tics, row­ing, shoot­ing, hand­ball, vol­ley­ball, fist­ball, canoe­ing, water polo and water div­ing.
The lev­el of per­for­mance, espe­cial­ly among the Finnish light and heavy ath­letes, was on par with that of the bour­geois clubs. But it was not just about per­for­mance, the “mass free exer­cis­es” with hun­dreds of par­tic­i­pants were pop­u­lar sport in the best sense: exer­cise for all, with­out any com­pe­ti­tion or pres­sure to per­form. Some nation­al fed­er­a­tions, such as the Czechs, reject­ed com­bat-ori­ent­ed dis­ci­plines like foot­ball and box­ing altogether.

“Fight for the Earth”

In addi­tion to sport, pol­i­tics was explic­it­ly in the fore­ground: 100,000 work­ers’ ath­letes took part in the “Pro­ces­sion of Nations” through the city cen­tre, car­ry­ing ban­ners with slo­gans such as “Nev­er again war” or “Fight for the eight-hour day” — about 400 drum­mers and pipers marched in front. Last but not least, sport was com­bined with cul­ture — which in turn was extra­or­di­nar­i­ly polit­i­cal: the pre­miere of the votive play “Bat­tle for the Earth” was about the utopia of a bet­ter world, the over­com­ing of cap­i­tal­ism and the vic­to­ry of socialism.

2nd Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Olympiad, Vien­na, 19–26 July 1931

When Italy was called out at the march­ing-in of the nations at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny of the 2nd Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Olympiad in the Prater Sta­di­um, all the flags low­ered: Italy had not been able to send a del­e­ga­tion, the fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship was already firm­ly in the sad­dle. In Aus­tria, too, the “Aus­tro­fas­cists” around the “Chris­t­ian Social Par­ty” and the para­mil­i­tary “Heim­bund” close to it were on the advance: they had open­ly declared war on democ­ra­cy and par­lia­men­tarism. More than the first, the sec­ond Work­ers’ Olympics there­fore stood under the sign of anti-fas­cism and class strug­gle: at the end of the event, around 100,000 par­tic­i­pants marched through Vien­na with red flags, demon­strat­ing uni­ty and sol­i­dar­i­ty in a mul­ti-eth­nic state in which nation­al­ism and anti-social­ism were increas­ing­ly gain­ing strength among the bour­geoisie. “For world dis­ar­ma­ment and gen­er­al peace” was the slogan.

Aus­tri­an social democ­ra­cy react­ed to the anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic ten­den­cies with the “Repub­li­can Pro­tec­tion League” and increas­ing­ly tried to con­cep­tu­al­ly inte­grate work­ers’ sport into it: Instead of pro­le­tar­i­an counter-cul­ture — cre­ativ­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion — it was increas­ing­ly about dis­ci­pline, mil­i­tan­cy and obe­di­ence.
As in Frank­furt, how­ev­er, Vien­na once again suc­ceed­ed in imple­ment­ing a counter-design to bour­geois sport, includ­ing a new con­se­cra­tion game: 3,000 ath­letes staged a sto­ry about the devel­op­ment of the work­ing class, which first wor­shipped a giant “capitalist’s head” placed in the sta­di­um, which was then top­pled from its throne at the end, a scaf­fold sev­er­al metres high.

3rd Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Olympiad, Antwerp, 25 July — 1 August 1937

The third and last Work­ers’ Olympics took place in the sum­mer of 1937 in Antwerp, Bel­gium, because a social­ist admin­is­tra­tion was at the lever here and the city was eas­i­ly acces­si­ble through its inter­na­tion­al port.
In addi­tion to the social demo­c­ra­t­ic “Social­ist Work­ers’ Sports Inter­na­tion­al”, the com­mu­nist “Red Sports Inter­na­tion­al”, which had been found­ed in Moscow in 1921, also par­tic­i­pat­ed for the first time. While the Social Democ­rats had still exclud­ed com­mu­nist-organ­ised ath­letes in 1925 and 1931, this time there was even a Sovi­et del­e­ga­tion. The 55 female ath­letes set sev­er­al new records, so that their ama­teur sta­tus was jus­ti­fi­ably doubt­ed and it was feared that the Sovi­ets would exploit the Work­ers’ Olympics for pro­pa­gan­da purposes.

And yet the third Work­ers’ Olympiad turned out to be small­er than its two pre­de­ces­sors: in Ger­many and Aus­tria the fas­cists were in pow­er and had crushed the pow­er­ful work­ers’ sports organ­i­sa­tions in both coun­tries.
The third Work­ers’ Olympics had a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance because Spaniards were present while in their home­land repub­li­cans and left­ists were try­ing to repel Franco’s coup. Thou­sands wel­comed the Span­ish del­e­ga­tion with shouts of “No pasaran!”. “Against war and dic­ta­tor­ship, for work, free­dom and democ­ra­cy” was the slo­gan of the last Work­ers’ Olympics. How­ev­er, the fact that com­mu­nists and social democ­rats had also come togeth­er in Antwerp as a result of the new pol­i­cy of the “People’s Front” was no longer of any help: on 1 April the fas­cists had also won in Spain — not least thanks to Ger­man mil­i­tary aid.

Car­ry­ing on the fire: CSIT World Sports Games

The Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers and Ama­teurs in Sports Con­fed­er­a­tion (CSIT) is the suc­ces­sor organ­i­sa­tion to the Social­ist Work­ers’ Sports Inter­na­tion­al, which col­lapsed at the begin­ning of the Sec­ond World War. It is an umbrel­la organ­i­sa­tion to which more than 80 organ­i­sa­tions from over six­ty coun­tries around the world belong. One of them is the RKB “Sol­i­dar­ität” Deutsch­land 1896 e. V., the adult asso­ci­a­tion of the Soli­ju­gend. The Dutch NCS, a long-stand­ing part­ner of our Inter­na­tion­al Youth Meet­ings, is also a member.

In 1986, the CSIT was recog­nised by the Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee and has its head­quar­ters in Vien­na. In 2008, the CSIT organ­ised the “World Sports Games” in Rim­i­ni (Italy) for the first time. The largest mass sports event in the world is in the tra­di­tion of the Work­ers’ Olympics — it is also and above all about cul­tur­al exchange and cross-bor­der friendships.

Mem­bers of the Soli­ju­gend will take part in the World Sports Games for the first time in 2023, as the RKB Sol­i­dar­ität will send a spe­cial­ly formed nation­al team in roller fig­ure skat­ing, which will trav­el to Emiglia Romagna (Italy) from 5 to 10 Sep­tem­ber. It con­sists of about two dozen ath­letes, a four-mem­ber coach­ing team and a del­e­ga­tion leader.
For the eighth edi­tion of the “World Sports Games”, the CSIT expects about 5000 ath­letes of all ages, 1000 rel­a­tives and friends and more than ten thou­sand spec­ta­tors. Tol­er­ance and respect, fair play, inte­gra­tion and inclu­sion, in short democ­ra­cy and sol­i­dar­i­ty are the val­ues that are lived out at the World Sports Games.

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