Olympic expansion only creates problems

The arrival of the Games in the Southern Hemisphere was intended to herald a further expansion of the Olympic spirit. But they were littered with problems and it was to be another 44 years before they were to return to this part of the world.

The problems had started when the International Olympic Committee chose Melbourne ahead of Buenos Aires by one vote and they then had to announce they would have to stage the equestrian events outside Australia because of the country's strict quarantine laws.

The event was eventually held in Stockholm, where Sweden won six gold medals amid allegations of biased judging and hometown marking in the dressage.

Many competitors stayed away from the other competitions because the Olympics were held outside their normal seasons and because Melbourne was considered to be too far away.

The Games were also hit by two politically inspired boycotts. Just three weeks before the Olympics opened the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and in protest Holland, Switzerland and Spain all refused to travel to Australia.

Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon also did not make the trip because of a dispute over the Suez Canal. China turned down their invitation because of the presence of athletes from Taiwan.

It was, therefore, no surprise that this was the smallest Olympic Games to be held since 1932.

Politics also overshadowed the Games once they started. Perhaps inevitably, Hungary was drawn to meet the Soviet Union in the semi-final water polo. The referee was forced to abandon the match with the Hungarians leading 4-0 after it degenerated into nothing more than a brawl.

At the conclusion of the Olympics, 45 members of Hungary's delegation refused to return home and sought political asylum in Australia.

The star on the track at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was also a Soviet when Vladimir Kuts won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. There was a surprise winner in the 1500m when Ireland's Ron Delany triumphed. France's Alain Mimoun, who at the age of 35 became the oldest runner to win the marathon, finally beat the great Emil Zatopek.

In light of how much impact politics played during these Games, it is a surprise that one of the things we now most associate with the closing ceremony of the Olympics should be inaugurated here.

At the suggestion of a local schoolboy, athletes entered the stadium together to emphasise the theme of "global unity".

Date Games held: November 22-December 8

Number of nations represented: 72

Number of competitors: 3258 (384 women)

Number of medal events: 151