Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

It was originally intended that there should be only flag bearers and name board bearers in the entry and exit marches for the Closing Ceremony—that is, only two people for every team, but a few days before the Games were due to end, Wilfrid Kent Hughes received a letter without any date or address, the opening lines identifying the author :

"I am a Chinese boy and have just turned 17 years of age.  I believe it has been suggested that a march be put on during the Closing Ceremony, and you said it couldn't be done. I think it can be done".

The march the boy had in mind was totally different from any other seen at previous Games; he suggested the concept of athletes marching as national teams should be forgotten and they should "parade" (rather than "march" as a massed group, no more than two team-mates together  ...

"During the March, there should only be one nation... war, politics and nationality should be forgotten. What more could anybody want than if the whole world could be made as one nation"?

Kent Hughes believed that a march was impossible given that the number of athletes, in some cases entire teams, that had left the Village for home, resulting in severely depleted numbers or no appearance at all and likely to present a poor public image of the last day of the Games.

But the athletes marching as a single nation?

The writer of the letter was identified as Ian John Wing, a Australian-born Chinese, and a carpenter's apprentice from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne

Not surprisingly, Kent Hughes after some six or seven years of battles to see the Games in place was immensely impressed with the simplicity and sense of the young Wing's suggestion. but it wasn't until mid-day on Friday, the day before the Closing Ceremony that others who had to be consulted gave their enthusiastic approval.

To Kent Hughes’ surprise, Avery Brundage, President of the International Olympic Committee and a renowned traditionalist endorsed the break from the past, but suggested that given time was so short, that no public announcement should be made and that a contingency plan should be put in place to cancel the parade if less than 400 athletes mustered.

There were considerable logistical difficulties with implementing the idea at such short notice - an emergency meeting of the heads of the missions still in the Village was held on the Friday night which almost unanimously endorsed the idea, but many athletes had left or were due to leave the Village for their homelands prior to the closing of the Games (estimates suggest 1,300 left on the Saturday alone).

It was found impossible to find sufficient transport in a single convoy for the estimated 500 athletes that eventually paraded eight-abreast around the arena after the flag-bearers of the 68 countries formed a straight line, Australia to Greece, and even after multiple trips had been organised, it was discovered there was nowhere in the M.C.G. arena itself to marshal the group.  

Fortunately, a small space from which the fencing had not been removed was available in Yarra Park adjacent to the main stadium and with the addition of some temporary barriers, an area was arranged in which to gather the parade as they arrived. Prior to their entry onto the arena, the marchers were seated in a small section of a stand normally reserved for athletes competing on any particular day, although with intense interest in the football final until very last moment of play, the competitors were somewhat reluctant to leave their seats, but they finally did so, and after gathering in the marshalling area, paraded into the ground.

Obviously, there was no time to rehearse or give specific guidelines to such a diverse ethnic group as to how the parade might proceed, but eight Australia representatives were hurriedly pressed into service to lead the march and set an example as to what might be achieved - although intended purely as a expedient measure, the fact that a group of Australians were at the head of the group attracted some criticism.

The parade was technically breaking the rules of the I.O.F, but the athletes were cheered wildly by the surprised crowd until they formed up for the closing speech.

The Games were officially closed by Brundage, who later described the massed parade of athletes as "A great plan ... this could become a part of future Olympics".

The Letter That Changed The Games

"Dear Friend, "I am a Chinese boy and have just turned 17 years of age.

"Before the Games I thought everything would be in a muddle, however, I am quite wrong, it is the most successful Game ever staged. One of the reasons for its great success is the friendliness of Melbourne people. Overseas people would agree with mc that Melbourne people are the most friendly people in the world.

"Mr. Hughes, I believe it has been suggested that a march should be put on during the Closing Ceremony and you said it could not be done.

"I think it can be done. The march I have in mind is different than the one during the opening ceremony and will make these Games even greater. During the march there will only be one nation. "War, politics and nationality will all be 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 1 think it can be done. No team is to keep together and there should be no more than two teammates together, they must be spread out evenly and they must not march, but walk freely and wave to the public.

"Let them walk around twice in the cinder and when they stop, the public will give them three cheers.

"I am certain everybody, even yourself would agree with me that this would be a great occasion for everybody and no one would forget it. "It will show the whole world how friendly Australia is. The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part."

"The signature was in decipherable". (The Argus. 10 December, 1956)

The Letter That Changed The Games



Unforgettable moments on the closing day. Led by eight Australian athletes as guides, the multi-national parade of competitors, and below, some of their acknowledgments of the cheers of the crowd