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Defections: Hungary at the Melbourne Olympics 1956

The Hungarian athletes who had enough of Soviet Oppression and deserted to the West in droves.

A headline in a Darwin newspaper was the first thing Hungary's Olympic Water Polo team knew of the brutal invasion of their nation's capital, Budapest, by Soviet troops. They had landed in the northern capital on their way to Melbourne to defend the Gold medal they had won at Helsinki in 1952.

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At that point, many of the team made the difficult decision – at the end of the Olympic Games, they wouldn't return to Hungary.


These players were involved in the infamous Blood in the Water Olympic semi-final against their Soviet oppressors and went on to win Gold again.

The whole Hungarian Olympic team was supported by a strong local Hungarian community in Melbourne. A community that was angered by the Soviet invasion of their homeland and who provided money, jobs and a place to stay for any athlete who chose to defect to a Western country. Forty-eight accepted their support and didn't return.

Clandestine communication channels were sought to get information into and out of the Olympic camp. Australian star sprinter, Shirley Strickland, was charged with secreting letters from expat Hungarians to athletes in the Olympic Village.

Many of the 48 athletes who defected eventually made their way to the USA, and were a part of the Hungarian Freedom Tour, brought to the public by Sports Illustrated magazine. The way they were able to become Americans was strange to say the least. Due to American law, the athletes had to travel to the Philippines and be registered as migrating to the US as residents of that country rather than Hungary.

The Freedom Tour stopped in 59 cities across the United States and was more about entertainment than athletics. But most of the athletes used the tour to secure jobs and homes, and, following its conclusion, settled as Americans.

There were Hungarian athletes who remained in Melbourne following the Olympics. Members of the Football team that was withdrawn from competition before the Games defected to Australia and settled in Melbourne. Just one year later, Olympic defectors were involved in the establishment of the Melbourne Hungaria Football Club. The club existed in the Victorian Soccer League for almost 30 years around the inner Southern suburbs.