Melbourne Australia, 1956

Legacy of the Games

The volatile nature of the international political situation at the time of the XVI Olympiad spilled over into the Games themselves. Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon refused to participate in the Melbourne Games in response to the Suez Crisis, after Egypt was invaded by Israel, France and the United Kingdom in protest at the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Egypt. The Hungarian Revolution was also crushed by the Soviet Union in 1956, causing the withdrawal of The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland from the Games in protest at the presence of the Soviet Team. Finally, less than two weeks before the opening ceremony, the People’s Republic of China decided to boycott the Games in protest at the Republic of China (Taiwan) being allowed to compete, under the name “Formosa”. Four of these nations did, however, compete in the equestrian competition in Stockholm – Egypt, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

Despite the political issues the Melbourne Games themselves proceeded very smoothly and became known as the ‘Friendly Games’. This is due in part to the idea of a young Melbourne man, John Ian Wing, who suggested that the Closing Ceremony should consist of athletes mingling together as they paraded in and around the arena, instead of marching within their national teams. This began a tradition which has been part of the Olympic Closing Ceremony ever since.

A combined East and West German team took part in the 1956 Olympic Games for the first time since World War II. The team used the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as their national anthem and a black, red and yellow flag showing the Olympic rings. This combined team competed in the Olympics until 1968.

The 1956 Games left a visible architectural legacy for the City of Melbourne. The main Olympic Stand at Melbourne Cricket Ground was demolished in 2004, but the former Olympic Pool remains as part of the Westpac Centre at the Olympic Park Complex. The former Olympic Village in Heidelberg West, Victoria remains as public housing. St Kilda Town Hall, where the fencing events were held, also still remains.