Sports history is littered with the action-packed anecdotes of American football, the worldwide intrigue of the far more aptly named variety of football and, of course, tales of Olympic heroism. But, what of the myriad other sporting occasions that have been all but lost to time?
The excitement of Sweden’s own Nordic Games, in particular, paints an interesting portrait of international sporting efforts and the many travails that assail them.
“He’s long ago given up hope of finding a country anywhere in the world where it was safe to tell total strangers that he had no interest in sports whatsoever.”
– Greg Egan, Zendegi (2010), Ch. 3.
The Nordic Games represent one of the world’s first attempts at international sports collaboration.
In fact, if it weren’t for these games, other similar sports events may never have come into existence.
How the Nordic Games Began
At their start, the Nordic Games were simply a way to promote unity amongst Swedes. They were launched in 1901 thanks to a certain Viktor Balck whose prominence in the sports sphere lent credence to the concept.
“Sports have the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope, where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination. Sports is the game of lovers.”
– Nelson Mandela at 1995 Rugby World Cup
Stockholm bore witness to the first of these events and surrounding nations began to take notice.
What Sports Did the Nordic Games Include?
The short answer: winter sports of all kinds.
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The long answer: winter activities such as cross-country skiing and figure skating were prominently featured in the games, but a wide variety of more obscure sports were incorporated as well. Hunting, ballooning, motorcycle racing and even a number of military sports were practiced in the games.
The Legacy of the Nordic Games
Amid the chaos that ensued after World War I, the Nordic Games were met with much opposition from competing nations and a crippled worldwide economy. However, it was what the games gave rise to that ultimately rendered them obsolete.
The successor to the Nordic Games ended up being the Winter Olympics, which have managed to stand the test of time thus far.
The Winter Olympics began in 1924, in France – effectively cutting short the continuation of the Nordic Games which ended in 1926.
The Olympics now carry on the legacy the Nords imbued in their first international winter sports event. Whether something will replace these games as well in due time remains to be seen.