Background: the 1936 People’s Olympiad and sporting tradition in Barcelona
The People’s Olympiad was meant to be an alternative sports event to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which had been awarded the games before Hitler gained power. Once in power, Hitler used the Olympic movement for Nazi propaganda purposes, legitimising his regime via sport and the Olympics.
Numerous countries and international organisations decided to take action, starting a boycott campaign and putting pressure on the games being organised in Berlin. At that time, popular sport in Catalonia involved a solid network of entities, something which helped in the organisation of the People’s Olympiad.
Besides taking a stand against fascism, the Olympiad was an alternative movement which prompted a surge in popular sport, the sporting identity of populations and the solidarity and struggle against fascism.
A day before the People’s Olympiad was to start, news of the military coup broke. On 19 July, the same day that the Montjuïc stadium was supposed to open up for popular sport at an international level, the unique cultural and sports event ended up being frustrated as the military left its barracks to consolidate a coup against the Republic and the Government of Catalonia. Although the majority of foreign competitors went home, there were a few who decided to take up arms and fight against fascism, initially alongside armed workers who stopped the soldiers in the streets of Barcelona, and later on the front line as part of anti-fascist militias. These volunteers inadvertently became the first foreigners to defend the Republic and formed the embryo of what would be the International Brigades.