I recently referred in this newspaper to the ill-fated Olympic complex devised by Peronism for the 1956 Olympic Games. I mentioned that the project was abandoned when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose Melbourne, instead of Buenos Aires, as the organizing city of the event. . Likewise, I alluded to the fact that the vote that determined that election in April 1949 was, and continues to be, the closest (21 votes to 20) for an Olympic venue in the history of that institution.
A journalist and a sports official contacted me to tell me that the decisive vote in favor of Melbourne had been from the Chilean member of the IOC. Although they did not mention him, they were referring to Enrique Barbosa Baeza, who had joined the IOC in 1948. The reason to justify his vote, they continued, was that Barbosa Baeza preferred to travel to Melbourne because Buenos Aires was a more accessible destination. In their 2010, 2012, and 2004 books, respectively, Ezequiel Fernández Moores, Ernesto Rodríguez III, and Víctor Lupo made similar statements, albeit cautiously. Thus, Lupo wrote: the vote “that changed Argentine sports history, according to specialists, was from a representative of a neighboring country, who, when rebuked for his change of decision, replied:” Knowing Australia in another way would be impossible for me, Jumping to Buenos Aires is very easy for me”.
This picturesque explanation of the failed candidacy of Buenos Aires for one vote is quite widespread in the national sports imaginary, but it is apocryphal and deserves to be clarified. Once the Argentine Sports Confederation-Argentine Olympic Committee (CADCOA) informed the IOC in January 1948 that Buenos Aires was requesting the organization of the 1956 Olympic Games, the national Olympic authorities began to promote the candidacy. For example, that same month, Horacio Bustos Morón and Ricardo C. Aldao, the Argentine members of the IOC, informed the institution that they supported the CADCOA communication. Six months later, they sent a letter to Sigfrid Edstrøm, president of the IOC, and another to the rest of their colleagues at the institution detailing the Buenos Aires bid and requesting their consent. In the letter they stated: “we sincerely hope that our Colleagues and Friends will support this initiative and vote in its favor when the time comes to do so.” The bid was probably also vigorously pushed during the London Olympics in July and August 1948.
In March 1949, the CADCOA wrote again to the IOC insisting on its desire to organize the 1956 Olympic Games. It also produced a sumptuous book that served as “its formal invitation to celebrate the XVI Olympiad in it (Buenos Aires) in 1956. ”. The IOC acknowledged receipt of the material and recalled that the vote would take place at its meeting in Rome, scheduled between the 24th and 29th of the following month. The efforts of the national Olympic authorities bore some fruit, as shown by the cable supporting the bid from Buenos Aires that the Uruguayan Olympic Committee sent to the IOC shortly before meeting in the Italian capital. On the contrary, in two cables also sent in those days, the two Brazilian members of the IOC voted for Detroit, one of the nine candidate cities.
In the session on April 25, the IOC decided that postal votes would not be admitted in the vote that would take place three days later. In other words, only the 41 members present in Rome could vote. In that group, the only South Americans were Bustos Morón and Aldao. On April 28, the two Argentine members of the IOC, accompanied by Rafael Ocampo Giménez, Argentine ambassador to Italy, and Mario L. Negri, an Argentine swimming leader, presented the Buenos Aires candidacy to the IOC and tried to convince its members of the convenience of organizing the 1956 Olympic Games there. The rest of the delegations also had the opportunity to present the candidacies of their cities.
Next, the IOC, which had decided to “proceed by elimination”, “that the number of cities to be eliminated will be decided after each (round)” and that in the last “absolute majority was required”, the vote began. Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and San Francisco were eliminated in the first round. In the second, Mexico City and in the third Detroit and Los Angeles. Buenos Aires had achieved 9, 12 and 13 votes in the first three voting rounds; Melbourne 14, 18 and 19. Buenos Aires captured 7 of the 9 votes in dispute in the fourth round, but that impetuous finish was insufficient to prevent Melbourne from obtaining the seat (21 votes to 20). In this process, Barbosa Baeza had no influence, since he was absent in Rome and if he voted by mail for Melbourne, his vote was rejected.
Here are other hypotheses of the elusive vote that would have turned Buenos Aires into the venue for the 1956 Olympic Games. Four months before the vote, at the end of 1948, Aldao wrote to Edstrøm confidentially warning that some actions of Peronism in matters sports were on the brink of transgressing Olympic principles. Although Aldao did not mention irregularities in the Buenos Aires candidacy, it is possible that Edstrøm was alarmed by Aldao’s letter –since Peronism was its promoter– and devalued it. Even if he did not reveal his alarm to other IOC members, his vote, unintentionally influenced by Aldao, could have been defining. Of course, it is also likely that none of this happened and that most IOC members believed that Melbourne was a better candidate than Buenos Aires. In any case, despite losing by one vote, the Argentine capital left a positive image among IOC members. As the president of the CADCOA stated after the meeting of that institution in Vienna in 1951, “the majority of the delegates […] recognized Argentina as the most suitable country for [reemplazar a Melbourne, en caso de ser necesario]”. That replacement, however, was unnecessary.
* Doctor in Philosophy and History of Sport. Professor at the State University of New York (Brockport).