The first post-war Winter Olympic Games started on 30 January 1948. After a break of almost 12 years, athletes from 28 nations gathered in St Moritz to compete peacefully. This was made possible by the COS, the Comité Olympique Suisse. One of the men who organised the Olympic Games in less than a year was Kurt Gassmann (1891-1964) from Bern. Although he only spoke broken English, he was a born organiser.
The Swiss auction house Rapp offers memorabilia from his estate that commemorate the 1948 Olympics in St Moritz and London as well as the 1954 FIFA World Cup. Kurt Gassmann’s estate includes medals, commemorative plates and a torch used for the torch relay of the 1948 Olympics in London.
Kurt Gassmann was born in Bern in 1891. The trained lawyer, who had played football himself since the age of 15 and participated in several matches of the FC Biel in the Swiss football league, was hired as Secretary General of the Swiss Football Association (SFA) in 1916. He had a lot of experience. Previously, he had held the same position with the FC Biel on a voluntary basis. Kurt Gassmann held this office for about 16 years before he resigned on 18 July 1942 for reasons of health. He retained some minor offices and, in 1945, the SFA General Assembly appointed him honorary member.
Since 1923 Kurt Gassmann had also been an honorary member of the COS, the Comité Olympique Suisse. Due to his experience, he was appointed Vice President when the organisation set out to accomplish a logistic masterpiece: using the time between an announcement made on 6 September 1946 according to which St Moritz would host the Winter Olympics and the opening of these very games on 30 January 1948 in war-torn Europe to ensure that this sporting event could take place.
One can hardly imagine how difficult the organisation was, although many venues of the 1928 Olympics could be used again and the budget at the time included “only several hundred thousand francs”. But they had to provide accommodation, food and infrastructure for 2,200 people. And many athletes travelled to the event without sufficient equipment. American skiers, for instance, lent their skis to their Norwegian colleagues, enabling them to take part in the competition. Months later, Kurt Gassmann was still proud of the fact that the International Olympic Committee had confirmed that “the 1948 Winter Olympics in St Moritz … had been the best-organised” games ever – despite all difficulties.
Kurt Gassmann took part in the London Olympics in his function as General Commissioner of the Swiss delegation. He personally described the difficulties he had to deal with in his role. Take just the question of food: “From the very beginning we were aware of the fact that the issue of food would be a delicate task… The organising committee made a list of all available foodstuff and how much food was available per person per day. This resulted in the need to organise additional food to supplement meals and provide athletes with food that was not abundant, but nevertheless nutritious and sufficient. … We were able to procure additional food … after Sport-Toto (a Swiss association founded for the purpose of raising funds to support and co-finance sports) had provided further funds.”
Kurt Gassmann impressed with his attention to detail, his organisational vision and his experience. This is why FIFA turned to him when the post as Secretary General had to be filled in 1951. Gassmann taking this office was associated with the task of organising another major event. Switzerland hosted the 1954 World Cup. Kurt Gassmann mastered this task brilliantly. And he was an eyewitness of the “Miracle of Bern”, as Germanys unexpected win of the World Cup Final against Hungary is called in Germany.
Kurt Gassmann was FIFA Secretary General until 1963. He shaped the organisation at an important stage. It was he who laid out his duties as Secretary General in the 1954 Statutes: “The Secretary General is the chief executive of the general secretariat. He shall be responsible for compiling the minutes for the meetings of the Executive Committee and the Commissions … and for FIFA’s correspondence as well as all relations between the association and national associations, organisations and commissions. Together with the Executive Committee he shall be responsible for his actions and the work of the employees of the secretariat.”
Revealing memorabilia, which will be on sale at auction house Rapp on 6 May 2022, testify to Kurt Gassmann’s career as a sport official.
An Olympic Torch
Among them is an Olympic torch, which was used for the Olympic torch relay from Olympia to London in 1948.
The torch relay covered a distance of 3,160 km. From Greece, the torch came by ship across the Adriatic Sea to Bari, through all of Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and France across the English Channel to Dover and from there to Wembley Stadium.
Kurt Gassmann had arranged for Switzerland, which hadn’t been part of the original route, to be included in the torch relay. 135 torchbearers carried the Olympic flame via Brig, Martigny, Montreux, Lausanne, Geneva and Perly. In Lausanne, a ceremony was held at the tomb of Pierre de Coubertin to honour the founder of modern Olympics.
Memories of a Visionary Official
The torch is just one of many memorabilia that commemorate the career of Kurt Gassmann. Among them are three Olympic medals of the St Moritz Games of 1948, as well as medals for participants of the 1948 Olympics in St Moritz and London. Of particular historical importance are three victory badges that were awarded on the occasion of the 1954 World Cup.
Commemorative plates bear witness to Gassmann’s international activities. One of them recalls the historic football match between England and Germany on 1 December 1954. It was the first match of both national teams after the war. The English won 3:1 over the reigning German world champions at Wembley Stadium.
For more information about the sale visit the Rapp website. If you want to get in touch with auction house Rapp, please contact Peter Rapp AG, Internationale Auktionen für Briefmarken & Münzen, Toggenburgerstr. 139, post box 276, CH-9500 Wil, phone: +41 / 71 / 923 77 44; fax: +41 / 71 / 923 92 20 or via email.
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