1950 World Championships

1950: Hungary Attempted to Bar Yugoslavia from Competing at Worlds

Even before the 1950 World Championships started, there was drama at the World Championships. Hungary was supposed to send a large delegation of gymnasts, but they didn’t. Instead, a small group of officials reportedly came and tried to bar Yugoslavia from competing.

A Little Background

The Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties was commonly known as Cominform. It was a way for the Marxist-Leninist communist parties in Europe to organize their activities. The communist parties of the following countries were founding members:

  • The Soviet Union
  • Bulgaria
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Yugoslavia
  • France
  • Italy

Without getting into the weeds, here’s what happened politically before the World Championships:

  • Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform in 1948 — in part because Yugoslavia sought unification with Albania and wanted to set up a Yugoslav-dominated federation with Bulgaria.
  • Yugoslavia then sought financial aid in 1949 from other countries, including the United States, an ideological enemy of Cominform.
  • Meanwhile, Hungary remained part of Cominform and loyal to the group’s agenda.

If you want to learn more about this, you can read a summary of the Tito-Stalin split at the bottom of this page.

Gymnastics History

From a gymnastics perspective, remember that the Hungarian teams had medaled at the 1948 Olympics. The women’s team had finished second, and the men’s team had finished third.

In other words, the Hungarians were among the top gymnastics team, which is partly why the organizers were miffed when they no-showed the competition.

Speaking of which, here’s a translation of an article from the Gazette de Lausanne.

Hungarian political delegation creates heated incident

It demands the exclusion of the Yugoslavs!

Although the opening ceremony of the world artistic gymnastics championships takes place Thursday afternoon, several delegations have already been there for a few days.

A serious incident happened because of the Hungarian delegation; the Hungarian Gymnastics Federation had announced 29 participants or officials, and accommodations had been reserved for them. The federal authorities had granted the entry visas, as well as the authorization to acquire currency, but two days ago a telegram from Budapest announced that the Hungarian delegation would not include 29 people, but only 5.

Gymnasts were expected to arrive, but this strange delegation was made up of two members of the Central Sports Committee, a woman belonging to the same committee who also functioned as an interpreter, and two other figures most likely fulfilling the role of political commissioners.

No excuse or explanation was given for the non-participation of the Hungarian gymnasts, the delegates limiting themselves to declaring that the Hungarian athletes were not leaving their country. But, on the other hand, this delegation immediately revealed its political character by asking the Basel organizers, as well as the representatives of the International [Gymnastics] Federation to exclude Yugoslavia from the world championships.

As a pretext, the Hungarians noted that Yugoslavia had sent its registration late, which is not true. Faced with their error by the production of the official document testifying to the validity of the registration of the Yugoslav Federation, the Hungarian delegates persisted in their unsportsmanlike request, which, of course, will not be taken into account at all.

The unacceptable attitude of the Hungarian delegation will be the subject of a discussion at the congress of the International Gymnastics Federation which will meet on Monday, July 17th in Basel.

So the number of nations participating in these twelfth gymnastics world championships is reduced to fourteen, but we still have no news of the Romanian women’s team, which should already be on its way to Basel, but which has not given any sign of life.

The aforementioned Hungarian delegation tried to get in touch with the Polish gymnasts and their leaders, but they were asked to mind their own business.

Here, once again, politics mixed with sport. Sad mentality!

Gazette de Lausanne, July 12, 1950

⁂ ⁂ ⁂

My thought bubble: FIG events used to be wild.

Note: The last-minute cancelation of the Hungarian and Czechoslovak teams caused logistical problems. They had to find additional judges at the last minute.

Czechoslovakia and Hungary had informed that they could not continue their registration for technical reasons. Therefore, the number of registered judges was no longer sufficient; subsequent entries were therefore necessary.

Die Tschechoslowakei und Ungarn hatten mitgeteilt, dass sie ihre Anmeldung aus technischen Gründen nicht aufrecht erhalten konnte. Daher war die Zahl der angemeldeten Kampfrichter nicht mehr genügend; es waren also nachträgliche Nennungen notwendig gewesen.

Luxembourg’s Le Gymnaste, August 1/15, 1950

Note: Though multiple newspapers reported this anecdote, it did not find its way into the official proceedings from the 1950 FIG Congress.

The French Original

Une délégation politique hongroise crée un vif incident 

Elle demande l’exclusion des Yougoslaves! 

(V. R.) Bien que la cérémonie d’ouverture des championnats mondiaux de gymnastique à l’artistique n’ait lieu que jeudi après-midi, plusieurs délégations sont déjà sur place depuis quelques jours. 

Un grave incident a été soulevé par la délégation hongroise ; la Fédération hongroise de gymnastique avait annoncé 29 participants ou officiels et des logements leur avaient été réservés. Les autorités fédérales avaient accordé les visas d’entrée, ainsi que l’autorisation d’acquérir des devises, mais voici qu’il y a deux jours un télégramme de Budapest annonçait que la délégation magyare ne comprendrait pas 29 personnes, mais 5 seulement. 

On s’attendait à voir arriver des gymnastes, mais cette étrange délégation était formée de deux membres du Comité central des sports, d’une femme appartenant au même comité et fonctionnant également comme interprète et de deux autres personnages remplissant fort probablement le rôle de commissaires politiques. 

Aucune excuse ni aucune explication ne furent données à la non participation des gymnastes hongrois, les délégués se limitant à déclarer que les sportifs hongrois ne quittaient pas leur pays. Mais, en revanche, cette délégation révéla immédiatement son caractère politique en demandant aux organisateurs bâlois, ainsi qu’aux représentants de la Fédération internationale d’exclure la Yougoslavie des championnats du monde.

Les Hongrois invoquaient comme prétexte que la Yougoslavie avait envoyé son inscription en retard, ce qui est faux. Mis en présence de leur erreur par la production de la pièce officielle témoignant de la validité de l’inscription de la Fédération yougoslave, les délégués hongrois persistèrent dans leur demande antisportive, dont, bien entendu, il ne sera pas tenu compte du tout. 

L’attitude inadmissible de la délégation hongroise fera l’objet d’une discussion au sein du congrès de la Fédération internationale de gymnastique qui siégera lundi 17 juillet à Bâle. 

Ainsi donc le nombre des nations participant à ces douzièmes championnats du monde de gymnastique se réduit à quatorze, mais on est toujours sans nouvelles de l’équipe féminine roumaine, qui devrait déjà être en route pour Bâle, mais qui n’a pas donné signe de vie. 

La délégation hongroise dont nous parlons plus haut a essayé d’entrer en contact avec les gymnastes polonaises et leurs dirigeantes, mais elle a été priée de s’occuper de ses propres affaires. 

Voilà, une fois de plus, la politique mêlée au sport. Triste mentalité ! 

Gazette de Lausanne, July 12, 1950

The Tito-Stalin Split

Here’s a quick summary of the Tito-Stalin split.

The most serious differences between Moscow and Belgrade [Yugoslavia] had arisen over policy in the Balkans. Stalin was increasingly wary of Tito’s efforts to seek unification with Albania and to set up a Yugoslav-dominated federation with Bulgaria—an issue that figured prominently in the final face-to-face meetings between Stalin and Tito, in May–June 1946. Although the relationship between the two leaders in mid-1946 was not yet acrimonious, it deteriorated over the next year. Stalin was especially irritated by Tito’s failure to consult with Moscow and to wait for Stalin’s explicit approval before taking any steps vis-à-vis Bulgaria and Albania. After Yugoslavia neglected to obtain Soviet approval for a treaty it signed with Bulgaria in August 1947, Stalin sent a secret cable to Tito denouncing the treaty as “mistaken” and “premature.” Tensions increased still further over the next several months as Yugoslavia continued to pursue unification with Albania, despite Moscow’s objections. Under pressure from Stalin, Tito promised in January 1948 not to send a Yugoslav army division to Albania (as Yugoslavia had tentatively arranged to do after deploying an air force regiment and military advisers in Albania the previous summer to prepare the country to “rebuff Greek monarcho-fascists”). This concession, however, failed to alleviate Stalin’s annoyance. In February 1948, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov warned Tito that “serious differences of opinion” about “relations between our countries” would persist unless Yugoslavia adhered to the “normal procedures” of clearing all actions with Moscow beforehand. Concerns about following “normal procedures” were at least as salient as any substantive disputes in the bilateral exchanges over the Balkans.

A few other points of contention had also emerged between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the early postwar years. In particular, Tito was far more willing than Stalin to provide military and financial assistance to Communist guerrillas in “gray-area” countries, notably in Greece. On other issues, too, the Yugoslav leader had occasionally objected to what he regarded as the Soviet Union’s excessively conciliatory policies toward the West—an ironic position in view of subsequent developments. Nonetheless, the disagreements between the two sides, important though they may have been, were hardly sufficient in themselves to provoke such a bitter and costly schism. For the most part, the Yugoslav Communists had been unstinting in their support for Stalin and the Soviet Union until early 1948. Indeed, the steadfast loyalty of Yugoslavia on almost all issues—loyalty that was spontaneous and not simply coerced—was evidently one of the major factors behind Stalin’s decision to seek an abject capitulation from Belgrade as an example to the other East European countries of the unwavering obedience that was expected.

Far from demonstrating Soviet strength, however, the split with Yugoslavia revealed the limits of Soviet coercive power—economic, political, and military. The Soviet Union and its East European allies imposed economic sanctions against Yugoslavia and adopted a number of political measures to destabilize and precipitate the collapse of Tito’s regime. But the economic pressure came to naught when Yugoslavia turned to the West and to Third World countries for economic assistance and trade (including supplies of energy and key raw materials) and when Tito rebuffed Moscow’s attempts to force Yugoslavia to pay for hundreds of millions of rubles’ worth of aid supposedly provided by the USSR in the first few years after the war. 

Mark Kramer, “Stalin, Soviet Policy, and the Consolidation of a Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe, 1944–53”

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