Wed, Jul 20, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Shoestring 1948 Games contrasts with 2012 event

Reuters, LONDON

With a year to go until the opening ceremony, next year’s Olympics are a constant presence in Britain: Construction work is in full swing, warm-up events are under way and the distribution of tickets is one of the biggest media stories of the year.

The preparations are in stark contrast to the last time London hosted the Games in 1948 amid the economic hardship, rationing and general gloom of post-war Britain.

London was originally scheduled to host the 1944 Games, but they, along with those of 1940 in Tokyo — which were briefly switched to Helsinki — were canceled because of World War II.

With vast swathes of the city still a rubble-strewn bomb site, the entire nation desperately short of food and money, and in the wake of one of the worst winters on record, London took on the 1948 burden and, with a predominantly volunteer organizing committee, somehow planned and executed the Games in a little over 18 months.

The 1948 Games cost a total of £732,268 pounds, about £20 million (US$32 million) at today’s rates, and made a post-tax profit of £9,000.

Viewed alongside the £9 billion total outlay for next year’s Games, some of the figures from the meticulous balance sheet of 1948 make fascinating reading.

A mere £78,120 was spent polishing up Wembley Stadium and the other venues, just £3,638 went on “entertainment and hospitality,” while office furniture cost £405.

Competitors were provided with bed linen, but were expected to bring their own towels — or hire them upon arrival.

British athletes had to buy or make their own shorts — though every man in the team was provided with one free pair of underpants courtesy of a local outfitter.

Ticket prices ranged from two shillings (about £7 today) for some of the more obscure events and venues to 10 times that for the rowing at Henley.

Although the Games of 1932 in Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin had provided purpose-built athletes’ villages, that was never going to happen in a city where every available builder and piece of material was still being directed toward replacing the hundreds of thousands of buildings destroyed in the Blitz.

Instead, the athletes were dotted around the capital in -accommodation varying widely in type and condition.

Among the 30-odd venues were hostels, military barracks and schools, where desks were simply replaced with beds.

However, men and women who had lived through the deprivation of the war years, many of whom had seen active service, were not about to complain about the comfort of the bedding.

The multi-national nature of the living arrangements helped to build camaraderie and establish cross-border friendships unknown to most in pre-war Britain, many of which lasted a lifetime.

It was not all smiles and make-do, however, and many overseas competitors were shocked to discover that, three years after the end of the war, Britain still operated a strict food--rationing system, with even basics such as bread, eggs and milk in short supply.

The authorities took some persuading to increase the athletes’ daily allowance from the basic 2,600 calories to the 3,900 allocated to workers in heavy industry.

A daily packed lunch of a thin sandwich, an apple and a hard-boiled egg was hardly the ideal training fuel for the world’s sporting elite, but many were rescued by the generosity of overseas governments and individuals who donated hundreds of tonnes of food.

This story has been viewed 2262 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top