British Workers' Sports Association

Reference: GB 0394 BWSA
Title: British Workers' Sports Association
Dates of creation: 1932-1957
Held at: Labour History Archive and Study Centre
Extent: 2 boxes
Name of Creator: Bert Mordle, The Labour Party International Department and the British Workers' Sports Association
Level of Description: fonds
Language of Material: eng fre ger

Administrative/Biographical History

British Workers' Sports Association was formed as a result of a split within an earlier organisation called the British Workers' Sport Federation. The BWSF had been established in 1923 under the auspices of Clarion Cyclists, Labour Party sympathisers and trade union officials. Its goal was international unity and peace through sport. The Communist Party increasingly dominated the organisation and there was a conflict between those who were committed to Marxist ideologies and those who believed in social democratic labour structures. Unable to tolerate the new militant stance Labour Party members and trade unionists left the organisation and regrouped in 1930 without the Communists.

The National Workers' Sports Association later British Workers' Sports Association, was founded at a meeting at Transport House (head quarters of the Labour Party) on 26 July 1930. Herbert Elvin, representing the Trade Union Congress General Council, chaired the meeting supported by F. O. Roberts, representing the Labour Party National Executive Committee.

In 1931 the BWSA sent a small team to the second Workers' Olympiad in Vienna and came fourth out of 21 teams. During the Second World War, the BWSA became the focal point for the re-establishment of an international workers' sports association. It was hoped that both the USSR and the USA would take part. This led to the formation of the Comite Sportif International du Travail (CSIT) in 1947. However, the refusal to exclude Communists caused problems with the BWSA (under pressure from the Labour Party) and the TUC withdrew from the CSIT. The splits within the CSIT meant that there were no further Olympiads. In the early 1950s the BWSA and the French Socialists tried to form a non- communist organisation but this failed.

In 1954 the BWSA gained a new secretary, Dave Curtis, who re-affiliated to the CSIT but failed to win financial support from the Labour Party or the TUC. In 1958 a decision was reached to wind up the BWSA, which closed in 1960. Dave Curtis went on to organise the sporting events at the successful Labour Party's 'Festival of Labour'.

The BWSA was affiliated to the Socialist Workers' Sports International (SWSI), the Amateur Athletics Association, the English Table Tennis Association, the National Cycling Union, the Lawn Tennis Association and the London Football Association.

Scope and Content

The Bert Mordle collection comprises, maps, souvenirs and typescript and manuscript accounts of the 1931 Vienna Olympiad; a letter from persecuted Austrian Socialists, 1934; printed reports in German of the 6th-9th Socialist Workers' Sports International, 1930s.

The Labour Party International Department papers and those of the British Workers' Sports Association comprise: Socialist International Sports and Culture Standing Committee memoranda, 1955; Correspondence between the British Workers' Sports Association (BWSA) and the French Socialists, 1953-1957; BWSA correspondence and minutes, 1947-57; BWSA annual reports, 1950-1951, 1954; BWSA constitution and membership forms.

There are also papers originating with Dave Curtis who was the last Secretary of the BWSA.

System of Arrangement

The Bert Mordle collection, the Labour Party and BWSA correspondence and the Dave Curtis papers have been kept separate. Letters and minutes have been arranged chronologically.

Administrative Information

Custodial History

This collection is made up of three components. Firstly, the Bert Mordle papers which date from the 1930s. They were apparently donated to the Labour Party Library, unfortunately the date and circumstances are not known.

The second group papers are from the Labour Party International Department. They comprise correspondence with the British Workers' Sports Association on international sporting events.

The final section, comprise of minutes from Dave Curtis who was secretary of the BWSA from 1954 until it ceased to operate in 1960. These papers were donated to the National Museum of Labour History. The three collections have been treated as one group despite different provenance.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In 1990 the Labour Party deposited its archive at the People's History Museum (formerly the National Museum of Labour History) in Manchester. The collection is now held at the Labour History Archives and Study Centre (LHASC), which is based at the head office of the People's History Museum and managed by the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.

Appraisal, Destruction, Scheduling

No appraisal, destruction or scheduling has taken place.


Accruals are not expected.

Access Conditions

Access by appointment.


Standard reprography conditions apply and are available on request from the archive.

Further Information

Finding Aids

A file list is currently being created

Related Units of Description

The Morgan Phillips Labour Party General Secretary papers held at the LHASC include a file on the British Workers' Sport Association.

Photographs from the Bert Mordle collection, which relate mainly to the Vienna Olympiad of 1931, have been transferred to the People's History Museum.

London School of School of Economics holds the papers of George H Elvin, who was the first secretary of the National Workers' Sports Association, later the British Workers' Sports Association. Reference code: COLL MISC 0685.

Publication Note

Stephen Bird used these records in an article published in the Society for the Study of Labour History (SSLH) Bulletin, no.50, Spring 1985.