About the Games

The Inter Allied Games was a multi-sport event held from June 22 to July 6, 1919 at the newly constructed Pershing Stadium just outside Paris, France. The stadium was built by the U.S. Military near Bois de Vincennes in collaboration with the YMCA. Only currently serving military personnel or people who had formerly served in the armed forces during the war were allowed to participate. Around 1,500 athletes from eighteen nations competed in nineteen different sporting events. Twenty-eight nations were asked to compete but only eighteen accepted the invite. China aimed to compete, but ultimately was unable to send any athletes to the games within the time scale. The country did, however, provide medals and trophies in support of the games. Some of the events included soccer, swimming, tug of war, water polo, boxing, tennis, American football and many more. There were military-related athletic events planned but only hand grenade throwing was put into the games.

The games were similar to a summer Olympics, but was not sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee.  One purpose was to get together to celebrate the end of the war and enjoy the time of peace. The games were also intended as a hopeful signal of peace after the devastation of war. The soldier/athletes were given the chance to compete in a friendly battle of sporting events  and to establish a firmer bond of national friendship between the allies. Competitive athletics at a high level were a big part of the games but they also proclaimed a theme of  “athletics for everybody.” The organizers believed that that there was a sport for every man even the those who were non-competitive engaged in some type of athletic activity every day.

Attendance at the games by regular citizens indicated the universal appeal of the competition. The sight and sound of Pershing stadium filled with cheering fans of the competing nations made the effort to organize games worthwhile. A spirit of fair play permeated the games and even professionals expected no reward other than the appreciation of his comrades and the desire to win for his country. The soldiers trained a long time and went through elimination trials for these games in order to battle it out in the IA Games. The contestants treated each other with respect and courtesy whether in the boxing ring, on the tennis court or on the track. So, one could accurately say that the games were a success and great idea for not only the avid fans, but the military participants.

Stadium
Inauguration of Pershing Stadium, June 22, 1919. Image: gallica.bnf.fr

There were many sponsors and organizations who made this happen. The YMCA, Knights of Columbus and other welfare organizations played the big part in making the games a success. The YMCA had a large number of well qualified physical directors who were in the ranks of the athletic secretaries in France. That led the “Y” to be valuable and was given co-operative responsibilities in the coordination of the program. The Knights of Columbus organized the wrestling and boxing tournaments. The welfare organizations faithfully and unselfishly created the army athletic program which served as a guide for the future development of organized sports and athletic activities within the military. Such programs greatly benefited the physical fitness of the American army in France and kept the soldier’s minds occupied during the long days as they awaited transport home. The YMCA taught many men how to play the sport they competed in and helped train them for the games. From January to June 1919, the Y earned enough money to keep the men in Europe as well as trained and fit for the games. Many of them went home with the knowledge of how to play new sports and developed an appreciation of the glory of the human body.

Group of men in stadium box
Dignitaries including General Pershing at the stadium. Image: gallica.bnf.fr

French authorities donated the land for the Stade Pershing, financing came from the YMCA and the American Army engineered and constructed the stadium. The seating capacity was 20,000. It held reserved sections for the rulers of nations and other guests of honor. Civilians secured tickets free of charge, and men in uniform did not need tickets to enter. Following the conclusion of the games, Pershing Stadium was presented as a gift to the people of France from the United States of America. The area, still known as Le Stade Pershing, continues to be used as an open air recreation park to this day. It is now the official property of France and an abiding monument to one of the most unique sporting celebrations in athletic history.

 

Sources

The Inter-Allied Games. Paris 22nd June to 6th July 1919, ed. Joseph Mills Hanson. Paris: The Games Committee, 1919.