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How The International Olympic Committee Avoided Standing Up To The Nazis In 1936

“Private assurances” were given to the International Olympic Committee ahead of the 1936 Olympics in Germany. “Purely domestic questions.”

WASHINGTON — Prominent out gay figures, from Harvey Fierstein to Stephen Fry, have led very public calls for action from the International Olympic Committee or their own respective national Olympic teams in response to the anti-LGBT laws being implemented in Russia, where the Winter Games are slated to take place in 2014.

Both men invoked the specter of the 1936 Games in Germany under Adolf Hitler’s rule, a blight on Olympic history which Fry said “provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad.”

Neither man compared the Russian treatment of gays to the Nazi Holocaust. For the International Olympic Committee, however, there is a historic parallel: In the the year before Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee faced questions from reporters and calls for boycotts.

While the Holocaust that Hitler’s Nazi regime went on to commit went far beyond any of the laws in effect at the time of the 1936 Olympics, it is the IOC’s response to the questions raised about the laws in effect at the time that is notable in light of the comparisons being made.

American activists at the time were calling on the country to boycott the Olympics because of Germany’s treatment of Jewish people, as detailed in an article in The New York Times on Nov. 7, 1935.

The German government gave the IOC “private assurances” about the treatment of people attending the Olympics, however, and the IOC distanced itself from German policies as “purely domestic questions.”

The calls for boycotts were dismissed, and the Games went ahead as planned.

The Olympic Committee regularly avoids getting involved in domestic human rights issues, most recently around the 2008 Olympics China, when the BBC reported that “China’s human rights record has been under scrutiny ever since Beijing was awarded the Olympics in 2001, and the IOC pledged to monitor the situation.”

The Olympic Games went ahead as planned.

In the “Final Report of the IOC Coordination Commission” for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a 55-page report, it simply stated, “To those who have criticised the IOC on human rights issues, one can argue that the Games have elevated international dialogue on such issues among governments, world leaders, politicians, NGOs and pressure groups.”

In its recommendations for future Olympics, incidentally, the IOC report noted, “It is important … that the Games remain relevant to the different audiences, but in particular to young people, and that all Games organisers proactively monitor and anticipate the wider trends and shifts that will affect societies in the future.”

In 1935, “assurances” were given to International Olympic Committee Chair Henri Baillet-Latour:

The IOC noted that national Olympic committees opposed a call for a boycott:

select.nytimes.com

And, the IOC chairman said larger questions of discrimination would be avoided by the IOC as “purely domestic questions” in Germany:

select.nytimes.com

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.
 
 
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