All the recent protests and threats of boycott over the Olympic Games is nothing new – the first boycott was in 1956 and Egypt was amongst those nations to boycott the event.

The 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne were the first games to be held in the Southern Hemisphere and many had doubts about staging the Games in Melbourne due to the reversal of the seasons, which would mean that the Games would be held during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter and many athletes didn’t have the funds to enable them to spend time acclimatizing before the Games began, so they had to retain their peak fitness for a longer period than usual. (225 athlete collapsed due to heat during the opening ceremonies). Further doubts were raised when the Australian government refused to shorten their usual quarantine period for horses entering the country, so Stockholm in Sweden was selected as an alternative venue for the equestrian event which were held in June, 5 months before the Games officially began, making this the first time that events of the same Olympics were held in different countries. Because of political events and the distance to Australia, only 3,500 athletes from 67 nations competed.

The Melbourne Games were fraught with political ill will. In July, Egypt seized control of the Suez Canal from Britain and France, and then in October, Britain and France invaded Egypt to regain control, sparking a full-blown international crisis a month before the Games, and Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the Games.

However, three Egyptian riders did compete in the equestrian events five months earlier in Stockholm.

In November, less than 3 weeks before the Opening Ceremony the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. This provoked protests from numerous western countries and some of them, such as Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands withdrew from the Games. Both nations however were present and this led to a violent water polo encounter between the two nations when blood was drawn for the first time in the Olympic Games. During the game the Russian, Valentin Propokov cried out ‘Fascist Hungarians’ and then punched the Hungarian, Ervin Zantor, giving him a deep gash over his eye. The bleeding player was pulled from the pool and a brawl broke out involving both players and spectators. Police were called in to protect the Soviet team from an angry crowd. The game was abandoned with Hungary leading by 4 – 0, the result was allowed to stand and Hungary went on to win the gold medal. 112 athletes made up the Hungarian team but only 44 returned to Hungary after the Games, the others receiving political asylum in Australia.

The crowds also took sides, cheering the Hungarians from their first appearance at the Opening Ceremony and booing the Soviets, The Americans were given the silent treatment, presumably because the United States declined to intervene in the Hungarian crisis.

The People’s Republic of China refused to participate and withdrew from the Games one day before they started because of the presence of the Republic of China under the name of Formosa (now Taiwan).

Athletes from both East and West Germany competed in a combined team. This remarkable combination would disappear at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Once the Games began though, they were a roaring success, the opening ceremony took place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the 22nd November and the Games were officially opened by Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, with the Olympic flame being lit by Australian athlete Ron Clarke.

Australian runner, Betty Cuthbert, became the ‘Golden Girl’ by winning three track gold medals. Britain’s Chris Brasher (who was Roger Bannister’s pacesetter when he broke the 4 minute mile) won a gold medal in the 3000m steeplechase.

The closing of the Games on December 8th saw for the first time, what was to become an Olympic tradition, at the suggestion of a 17 year old Australian, John Wing, instead of the teams marching behind their national flag as they did in the Opening Ceremony, the athletes mingled with one another as they paraded around the stadium as a symbol of global unity – “During the Games there will only be one nation. War, politics and nationalities will be forgotten. What more could anybody want if the world could be made one nation” (extract from a letter sent by John Wing to the Olympic organisers in 1956)

The Games were nicknamed “the Friendly Games”.

Egypt also withdrew from the 1976 Summer Olympics, boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics and in the 1984 Winter Olympics a single alpine skier participated. Egyptian athletes have won a total of 23 medals, with weightlifting as the top medal-producing sport.

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