Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

January, 1948

Melbourne's bid for the 1956 Games effectively commenced in January, 1948 with an invitation cabled to the International Olympic Council by the "Melbourne Invitation Committee', comprising Sir Winston Dugan, the Victorian Governor; Mr Thomas Hollway, Premier; Sir Frank Beaurepaire, president of the Victorian Olympic Council; and Sir Raymond Connelly, Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

(Somewhat sadly, three of the four never lived to see the Opening Cemetery - Connelly (4 May 1949). Dugan (17 August, 1951), Beaurepaire (29 May, 1956) all passing away before the fruition of the dream)

The message, over Sir Raymond Connelly's signature, impressed on the Committee that finance for the organization and conduct of the Games had been assured by the City of Melbourne and the State of Victoria.

It was noted at the time that a great deal of construction work would be required, and that the Melbourne Cricket Ground was unlikely to be used, first as it was grassed, whereas most Olympic nations competed on cinder tracks, and secondly, the ground sloped down some seven feet towards the south-western end, making it unsuitable for timed track events.

The Invitation Committee was supported by a "publicity fund", which hoped to raise £20,000 for the purposes; Connelly justified the bid by saying Melbourne would be lifted out of doldrums if it was selected … "At the moment Melbourne as a city had nothing to offer the tourist apart from one or two decent hotels. A transformation of civic thought, such as the Games would bring about, was needed to make Melbourne world minded”.

Although there was nothing in the announcement to suggest where the main stadium would located, the committee did present preliminary drawings of the stadium and swimming pool

With the perfect vision always associated with hindsight, perhaps the Invitation Committee lacked an essential ingredient – the participation of those involved in amateur athletics on a regular basis, and it was probably the concerns of the latter group (as well as the anticipated cost) that saw the Invitation Committee's original suggestion of the Melbourne Showgrounds ultimately abandoned.

February, 1948

Despite the announcement of the Games bid, nothing happened on the Olympic Park stadium scheme - the Labor Government under which Thomas Galvin served lost power in November, 1947 and he was serving as Deputy Opposition Leader in February, 1948 when he pressed the new Government to form a representative committee to plan the new Olympic Park.

With the acute housing shortage and perhaps with a subconscious commitment to the Showgrounds, the new premier Thomas Hollway adopted a "chicken or egg" stance : "No decision on the  building of a new Olympic stadium at Olympic Park will be made by the Government until it is known whether the 1956 Olympic Games are to be held in Melbourne."

The Showgrounds Plan

In September, 1946 as part of its bid for the introduction of night trotting, the Royal Agricultural Society announced its plan for "a huge stadium" at the Showgrounds, not only for trotting, but for athletic sports "and even the Olympic Games" at a cost of £250,000. Most of the alterations detailed were for the track itself (at the time, nothing more than a parade ring for the annual Show), but there were suggestions of a double-decker concrete stands "on a scale that will rival the M.C.G".

April, 1949

After more than 12 months of lobbying, Melbourne was awarded the right to host the 1956 Olympic Games on 29 April, 1949 at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee held in Rome .

It was far from a clear-cut decision – most observers thought that the Games would probably go to an American city (Los Angeles hosted in 1932), but in Australia's favour was that it was one of just four countries that had competed in all Olympics since 1896 – Great Britain, the U.S. and Greece all having held the Games previously, and with there was a  belief that for the Games to be truly international, it was time for them to be held for the first time in the southern Hemisphere.

The latter certainly proved to be the case - after a fourth ballot, Melbourne was selected with the narrowest possibility margin, 21 votes to the only other southern Hemisphere candidate, Buenos Aires in the Argentine, 20.

The four ballots progressively eliminated contenders - the first ballot provided a real shock.  No less than six of the ten cities applying for the Games were in the U.S., but four - Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and San Francisco were eliminated in the first ballot, the first three with just one vote (possibly their own)from the 41 voting members, San Francisco a perfect zero. Also scoring a duck was Montreal.  Through to the second round were Australia, 14, Buenos Aires 9, Mexico City 9, Los Angeles, 5, Detroit 2.

In round 2, Mexico City's prospects took a belting, their nine first round votes for some reason collapsing to just three and "adios, amigo". Melbourne 18, Buenos Aries 12, L.A. four and Detroit make up the final four.

Preliminary finals in round three and the remaining two American cities go by the board, Los Angeles 5 and Detroit 4 overwhelmed by Melbourne 19 and Buenos Aires 13.

Needing a majority vote of 21 to secure the Games, the Melbourne team must have thought they were home-and-hosed, but those who like to tally up the number of chickens before they emerge from the egg got a shock - of the nine "floating" votes from round three, seven went to Buenos Aires, but the two for Melbourne got the city across the line in a desperately close photo-finish.


1946-47 : The Impossible Dream

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