Hitler’s Games and deceit on an Olympian scale

Peter Wilson reviews a cricket stats book where the match reports are written by cricket fans – though nothing to worry SJA members, yet – and Anton Rippon’s Hitler’s Olympics

For many, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were about two men: Adolf Hitler and Jesse Owens. The fascist dictator and the black athlete who single-handedly tore up the Aryan handbook. But there was more to it than that.

Hitler’s Olympics is Anton Rippon’s follow up to Gas Masks for Goal Posts, his splendid book about football in Britain during the Second World War, and provides the full story of the world’s biggest sporting event that was manipulated by politicians and where Owens becomes just a bit player in a wider tale. It recalls the background to the Games being awarded to Germany, the build up and the event itself.

Owens remains the headline story of the Games – he may have won four gold medals, but did he really upset Hitler? – though even he pales into insignificance when judged alongside the deceit perpetrated to ensure the Games were allowed to take part in a Germany that differed wholly to the country that was originally awarded the event in 1931.

The book looks at the acquiescence of members of the International Olympic Committee, who turned a blind eye to the persecution that was rife in the country before a starter’s pistol had been fired in a stadium that stood a javelin throw away from a concentration camp.

Rippon assesses the threat of a boycott, how the Nazis covered up their hounding of Jews and other minorities and, indeed, anyone who disagreed with their creed by placing over the country’s true face a friendly mask for visitors and athletes to see. He also takes an in-depth look at that year’s Winter Olympics, held just 60 miles from Munich at Garmisch, an event that has otherwise almost been forgotten, such has been the focus on Owens’s achievements in front of Hitler at the summer Olympics.

Yes, he also looks at the sport that took place, although at times it punctuates the narrative like an unwelcome comma.

The World Cup in Germany this summer has shown how the world has changed in the 70 years since the Berlin Olympics. The one lesson that was not learnt, though, was the political interference in sporting events. The Olympics were blighted by it in the 1970 and ’80s. The fear is that the next Games, in Beijing, could be another event where what takes place on the track or in the swimming pool is used as camouflage for something more sinister.

Hitler’s Olympics: the story of the 1936 Nazi Games by Anton Rippon (£19.99, Pen & Sword)

  • Also worthy of mention is the 2005-06 Test Cricket Annual, edited by John Woods. “Not another cricket book loaded with statistics?” you may ask. Well yes and no. Most books that cover Test matches tend deal with one specific series or mention a lot of series with very little editorial content.
  • Wood provides a good service here by bringing together every Test played from May 2005 (England v Bangladesh) to May 2006 (South Africa v New Zealand) with substantial editorial about each game. Oh, of course, and just in case you have not been able to find a book on the England-Australia Ashes series, it covers that comprehensively, too.

    What makes this stand out even more is that it is cricket fans, and a rather dodgy lot they look, too, who have written the reports. Still, it is better than it sounds and quite entertaining in some places.

    Of course, there are glitches. Woods, writing in a book that ends with Test matches played in May 2006, writes that “the English cricket season is almost upon us”. The English cricket season has started in April for many years and as this book has a July publishing date, the 2006 season will be halfway through by the time it reaches the bookshop shelves.

    2005-06 Test Cricket Annual, edited by John Woods (£14.99, Unicorn Press)

    These reviews first appeared in the SJA Newsletter, which is distributed to all paid-up members of the Sports Journalists’ Association. To find out how to join the SJA, click here.

    Publishers wishing to have their sport-orientated book reviewed on the SJA website should send a copy, with full publication details, to: SJA books, 80, Southbridge Road, Croydon, Surrey CR0 1AE.