On 10 April Barcelona received the flag as a sub-venue of the Tarragona 2017 Mediterranean Games. The Mayor of Tarragona, Josep Fèlix Ballesteros, handed the flag to Xavier Trias in the Saló de Cent in the presence of the Deputy Mayor for Quality of Life, Equality and Sport, Maite Fandos, and a number of councillors from the two cities.Sixty-two years on, the Mediterranean Games are set to return to the Catalan capital.
Barcelona’s relationship with the world of sport goes back a long way, long before the Olympic Games in 1992. The city made a number of attempts to host the Olympics in the first third of the 20th century and in July 1936, a Popular Olympiad was scheduled to be held but had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.It was during the Franco regime that the city first managed to organise a prestigious international sporting event:the second edition of the Mediterranean Games, which was held in 1955, three years after another great international event: the 1952 Eucharistic Congress.
All the big events organised by Barcelona have left a legacy for the city. The Universal Exhibition in 1888 served to remodel the venue that had previously been the military citadel, the International Exhibition of 1929 led to the development of Montjuïc and the Eucharistic Congress led to a new neighbourhood, El Congrés. The legacy of the 1955 Mediterranean Games was the remodelling of the municipal swimming pool – which in 1992 was used for the diving competition – the current Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium – which was built in 1929 – and a brand new amenity: the Montjuïc Sports Palace, the first covered pavilion in Spain.
The main person responsible for bringing the Mediterranean Games to the city was Santiago Güell i López, son of Güell, who had been president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee. Despite this, he was not able to see them because he died in 1954, a year before the Games were held. Barcelona was also the first Spanish city to have a sports councillor, the son of Esponellà, who was given the task of presenting the city’s bid to host the Games.And it was Barcelona that introduced one of the symbols of the Mediterranean Games:an amphora filled with Mediterranean sea water. Carlos Pardo proposed using an amphora and water when the International Olympic Committee refused to allow the use of the Olympic torch and flame.
The Games were held between 16 and 25 July 1955, with the participation of 1,135 athletes from 10 countries:Egypt, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Monaco, Syria and Turkey.They were all men, however, because women were not allowed to take part until the 1967 edition, held in Tunisia.The Spanish delegation, with 12 gold medals, 27 silver medals and 18 bronze, was third in the medal table behind France and Italy.
One of the most distinguished participants was a young Barcelona-born athlete from the Gràcia district, Joaquim Blume, considered to be one of the best gymnasts of all time. There are still people who remember his perfect gymnastic Christ on the rings. He died in 1959 in a plane crash without having reached the pinnacle of his sporting career, because the Francoist authorities did not want to take part in big international events – the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 and the Moscow World Championships in 1958 – for political reasons.
That summer in 1955, as happened in 1992 with the Cultural Olympiad, there was an extensive programme of cultural activities, such as stamp and photography exhibitions, an exhibition on sports books, theatre productions, such as Fuenteovejuna, which took place in the Plaça del Rei, or the first edition of a sports film festival, which stayed on in the city.
2012 saw the presentation of the book published by the Barcelona Olympic Foundation, Barcelona 1955, els Jocs Mediterranis, by Juli Pernas, which explains, among other things, how the Mediterranean Games came into being and how the 1955 edition, held in our city, was managed and organised.