Olympic Games 1956 Melbourne

16th Olympiad


Sports: 18

Events: 145

National Teams: 67

Participants: 3,189

John Wing

 A schoolboy saved the Olympic Games

The 1956 Olympic Games was staged in Melbourne Australia during the height of the Cold War.  Throughout the world there was global tension and political unrest because of the Suez Crisis, the invasion of Hungary by Russia , tension between East and West Germany and between main- land China and Taiwan .

A number of countries boycotted the 1956 Games as a protest, whilst others wouldn’t allow their athletes to mix with other athletes in the Village.  The final straw came for the organizers, when Russian and Hungarian players fought each other during the water polo match.  The police had to separate the players and the match was cancelled because there was so much blood in the pool.

The IOC and the Organizing Committee had by now given up all hope of saving the Games from ending in failure.  That was, until they received an anonymous hand written letter from a 17 year old Chinese student.  The boy had an ‘idea’ that turned the Games into a success and the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games became officially known as the Friendly Games.

Samaranch and John Wing

President Samaranch invites John Ian Wing to the IOC`s Headquarters in Lausanne in 1992

The boy was later identified as John Ian Wing and this is his story:

When I was about 14 years old I wanted to take up some sport at school but I wasn’t that keen on doing football or cricket, so I went to the library and took out a book on the Olympic Games.  Now I could study all the different sports and find one which I would like to do.  I eventually decided to do the sprints.  Reading through the book I was awe struck by the sheer spectacle of the Opening Ceremony and to see athletes from all around the world in their smart uniform marching into the stadium behind their national flag.  They must have felt so proud.  But I thought it was strange that the athletes were not allowed to take part in the closing ceremony.  The final day of any sporting event is where you celebrate all the victories, and say goodbye to all the new friends you have made, but not the Olympic Games.  This was due to the protocol of the Olympic Charter.

In 1956, the Olympic Games came to my home town of Melbourne Australia .  All Australians were so proud to be able to host the Games and to show the world the true Australian hospitality.  As the Opening Day drew closer, there was a bit of disappointment because of all the conflicts around the globe and some countries decided to boycott the Games.  Even though the Australians made all the visitors welcome, they would invite strangers to their homes for dinner to show them what Australian life was like, but there was still that tension in the air.  Athletes from some countries were instructed by their governments not to mix with other athletes in the Olympic Village.  Officials of the IOC and the Organizing Committee were aware of the problem, and were concerned that the Olympic Movement was being torn apart.  The worst was yet to come, when a near riot broke out during the final of the Water Polo between Russia and Hungary .  The police were called in to calm the violate situation and the game had to be stopped because there was so much blood in the water.  For the IOC and the Organizing Committee, the closing ceremony could not come quick enough for them.

I was observing all what was going on and it saddened me to see politicians were using the Olympics for their political gains and the athletes were a ‘pawn’ in their game.  It was pointless to scream and shout at politicians because it goes in one ear and out the other ear. But I remembered an old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword”.  It was a Thursday evening; on the Saturday was the closing ceremony, so I didn’t have much time to come up with a solution and write my letter.  Then I remembered reading about the Olympic Games and the closing ceremony.  At first I thought of organizing a big party on the last day for all the athletes and spectators in the stadium.  I soon dropped that idea.  As the athletes march into the stadium as separate nations during the opening ceremony, why don’t we get them to join and intermingle and form one Olympic Nation and enter the stadium during the closing ceremony.  This way the politicians could not separate their athletes, as they will walk behind the Olympic flag.

I didn’t put my name or address to the letter in case someone thought it was a daft idea and then, I went to the office of the Organizing Committee, which was just down the road from where I lived and put it through the letter box.  On the Saturday morning I checked the newspapers to see if my idea had been adopted but there was nothing in the papers, being a little disappointed I went to the movies that day.  Coming out from the movies, I saw a group of people outside a shop window and they were watching the closing ceremony.  In those days, very few people owned a tv set.  I saw the athletes had all joined up to form one group and was walking casually, laughing and waving to the crowd in the stands.  I thought to myself, I wonder if that was my idea.  As there were no weekend papers, I had to wait until Monday morning to find out.  I got up early in the morning and bought all the newspapers and on the front page of every paper was my story and my letter.  On my way to school, I decided not to tell my school mates because they would not have believed me.  I also did not tell my parents because being Chinese, you should always seek your parents permission if you want to write to the authorities.

I decided to remain anonymous for I had done my job and saved the Games from ruin and helped to restore the integrity of the Olympic Movement.  I wrote a second letter to Wilfrid Kent Hughes whom I had written my first letter to, and gave him my name and address, but I asked to remain anonymous.

Johns street

Johns street in Sydney

For the first time in the History of Mankind and Olympic History, men and women came from the four corners of the globe, regardless of their nationality, colour or religion, to join together and mingle freely, and to walk as One Nation.  And amidst all the global tension and political unrest of the 1950s, they walked together laughing, waving to the crowd, conveying a message of goodwill, peace and harmony to the world.  Some of the countries were at war with each other, but for that brief moment in time, war, politics and nationality were all forgotten.  That is the power of the Olympic Movement.

If you care to read my full story you can go to my website:  www.johnwing.co.uk


Source document: Official Report, Melbourne 1956, page 26:

A wave of emotion swept over the crowd, the Olympic Flame was engulfed in it and died;
the Olympic flag went out in tears, not cheers, and a great silence. This, more than any remembered
laurel of the Games, was something no-one had ever experienced before—not anywhere in the world,
not anywhere in time.

Clearly, as the crowds instinctively recognized, this finale had not been in the libretto. How
accurate was their intuition. It was as late as the Wednesday of the final week that the Chairman
received a letter, the writer of which identified himself as a Chinese boy "just turned seventeen ".
" Mr. Hughes ", he wrote, " I believe it has been suggested that a march should be put on
during the Closing Ceremony, and you said it couldn't be done. I think it can be done." The
march he had in mind, he said, was different from the one during the Opening Ceremony.
" During the march there will be only one Nation", he continued. " War, politics, and
nationality will be all forgotten. What more could anybody want, if the whole world could be
made as one Nation ? Well, you can do it in a small way. This is how I think . . . No
team is to keep together and there should be no more than two team-mates together. They must
be spread out evenly . . . I'm certain everybody, even yourself, would agree this would be a
great occasion . . . no-one would forget. The important thing in the Olympic Games is
not to win, but to take part."*

The happy scenes on Closing Day.

The happy scenes on Closing Day

The idea caught the imagination of the Hon. W. S. Kent Hughes but it was not until
lunch-time on Friday, the day before the Closing, that others who had to be consulted had
approved and the President of the International Olympic Committee endorsed the innovation.
Time was so short that a public announcement was deemed inadvisable and instructions were
issued to cancel the parade if the athletes who mustered proved fewer than 400.
The spectators were thus taken completely by surprise.

So much for the factors which highlighted the Olympic Games in Melbourne as an historic and heroic
* The writer of the letter was later identified as John Ian Wing, an Australian-born Chinese, a
carpenter's apprentice by trade.

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