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How Did the Brazil National Team Travel to the 1932 Summer Olympics?

The 1932 Olympics was held during the Great Depression. Participation in the games was at its lowest since the 1904 Olympics since several countries were struggling with funding their athletes. But did you know that the Brazilian team got creative and found a way to get to the Olympics?

Brazil didn’t have the funds to send their national team to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. But the team thought of an idea. They decided to sell coffee in the ports that they would stop in to fund themselves.

How Did Coffee Help the Brazilian National Team?

The 1932 Summer Olympics was held in Los Angeles, California, despite the global economic crisis we now know as the Great Depression. Of the 2,883 athletes who attended the Amsterdam Olympics four years back, only 1,332 showed up in LA, with only 37 nations participating compared to the 46 nations attending Amsterdam.

The significant global economic slowdown severely affected nations’ finances, much more funding the trip of their athletes to LA. It was known that most nations struggled to find a way for their country to be represented in the 1932 Olympics. Brazil was one of them.

At the time, Brazil was the largest coffee producer in the world. It supplied 80 percent of the coffee globally. But the Great Depression significantly impacted Brazil’s coffee industry. Coffee prices globally fell, and many buyers and contracts were canceled, leaving Brazil with a problem of overproduction in coffee. (Source: Now I Know)

The country’s president Getúlio Vargas created the National Coffee Council, wherein the government purchased part of the Sao Paulo coffee crop and disposed of it through barter. The country exchanged coffee for wheat with the US and coal with Germany.

However, the crisis offered an opportunity for Brazilian athletes. Brazil announced that it would be sending athletes to the 1932 Olympics, and it would be using a unique scheme to finance its team. The athletes will be traveling to the Olympics aboard a chartered merchant steamer S.S. Itaquicê.

And in an agreement with the National Coffee Council, the athletes will be traveling with fifty thousand bags of coffee donated by the coffee growers. They would be tasked to sell coffee in ports when they stopover and sell the leftovers in California. The athletes would use the proceeds to pay for the fees in joining the Olympics. (Source: Coffee Crossroads)

The Brazilian Athletes’ Voyage

The ship left Rio De Janeiro on June 25, carrying about fifty thousand bags of coffee, as well as 87 athletes, 9 nine officials, and staff members, 13 members of the press, a naval band, and friends and families of the athletes. The planned travel route was some 7,197 nautical miles, and many port stopovers were planned to sell coffee.

The Brazilians reached the Port of Spain in Trinidad on July 6. The athletes disembarked to exercise on the shore and sell coffee while doing so, but they could not sell much. The ship’s finances were tight when they reached the Panama Canal. To avoid the canal transit fees, the Brazilians argued that the Itaquicê was a naval ship since it had two big cannons but was unsuccessful in convincing the canal officials. They ended up paying the fees.

The athletes arrived at the port of LA on July 22, eight days before the scheduled start of the games. Unknown to them, the state of Sao Paulo rebelled against president Varga’s government. This led to a delay in obtaining money to reach the Brazilian athletes. The port officials required one dollar per person as a fee to disembark.

The athletes could come up with enough money to have 24 members disembark and head to the Olympic village. A few more athletes were able to leave in the following days, but it was reported that around 20 had to stay on board as they couldn’t pay the fee. (Source: Coffee Crossroads)

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