The 1936 Berlin Olympics is best remembered for the politcal controversey surrounding it as Fuhrer Adolf Hitler looked to publicize the superiority of the Aaryan race.
The Nazi party was looking to establish political dominance in Germany at the time, using propaganda (among other measures) to assert their rule.
Hosting the Olympics became a sticking point for Hitler and the party as they hoped that by winning the most medals, they could show how Germany consisted of the “best” people in the world, further highlighting why racial cleansing was necessary to build Germany back up from the ruins of World War I.
The Jewish community was persecuted heavily during this time, and as a result they couldn’t take part in the games. Hitler made sure to exclude them from German sports and recreational facilities. This was the case with other racial minorities as well.
Thus, when African-American Jesse won several medals, Hitler was enraged. The conditions at the Berlin Olympics were less than ideal, and basketball was one of the sports that suffered the most.
Teach students the story of great American athlete Jesse Owens, who medaled at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and how he dealt with racism both abroad and in the U.S. (Grades: 6-12) https://t.co/Lm9y6kHTrM
— PBS Teachers (@pbsteachers) July 31, 2021
Dr. Naismith Not Allowed At The Berlin Olympics, Basketball Played On Gravel Among Various Problems
Dr. Naismith is important in basketball history as he is credited as being the inventor of the sport. Thus, with the Olympics set to feature, you’d expect that if Dr. Naismith wanted to, he’d be able to watch and attend the games and ceremonies right?
Wrong. Olympic referee Jim Tobin claimed that Naismith was intentionally left off the list as indicated by The Lincoln Evening Journal:
“Dr. Naismith arrived in Germany without even a pass to see a game. We managed to get him a pass for all games, but it was not [through] the American Olympic committee’s efforts. He was ignored there and his name was stricken from the pass list. What’s more, no ceremony was planned for Dr. Naismith, who is naturally the most important figure in basketball.”
Additionally, the actual event of basketball was planned horribly. Infrastructure for the game was incredibly poor as instead of playing on traditional hardwood courts, the American basketball team, and all other teams, had to play on gravel.
This meant that the courts were uneven, subject to rain, and even unsafe to play on. According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel:
“Play in the Olympics will be on gravel. This presents several difficulties such as the impossibility of a good dribble, accurate long shots, or, in case of rain, a slippery ball. Also, the referees are unusually strict on pivots, and very often call them traveling. There is no center line, and any stalling and freezing of the ball is perfectly legal.”
All in all, the Berlin Olympics was more of a disgusie for political ideologies as Hitler and the Nazi Party were certainly more interested in furthering their party’s ideals rather than the actual sports on display. Anti-semitism was the name of the game and Hitler and the Nazis looked to push that thought wherever they could.