Host City: London, Great Britain
Venue(s): White City Stadium, London; White City Stadium, London
Date Started: July 17, 1908
Date Finished: July 18, 1908
Format: Single-elimination tournament.
There were seven teams entered but Germany and Greece scratched. Three teams of British policemen then competed against teams from the United States and Sweden in what was a very controversial competition. In the first round the Liverpool Police team pulled the U.S. team "in a rush," winning easily, with the Daily Graphic noting, "The United States remained as competitors for the shortest time on record. The Liverpool Police pulled them over the line almost as soon as they threw their weight on the rope."
The Americans then protested, claiming that the British were wearing illegal boots. The Liverpool team offered to pull again in barefeet but the American team, which was comprised of specialists in the "heavy" field events, made no response and withdrew. In the semi-finals Liverpool defeated Sweden, but were then easily defeated by a team of London City Policemen in the final.
The American protest did not die and received significant play in the press and, eventually, in the American and British responses to the multiple protests and criticisms made by the United States' officials. The American protest concerned the Liverpool footwear, which they considered illegal. The pertinent rule, as listed in the program, was the following, "No competitor shall wear prepared boots or shoes or boots or shoes with any projecting nails, tips, sprigs, points, hollows, or projections of any kind." However, the policemen were wearing standard police boots, with metal rims, but no projecting studs or other items. The protest must have considered this footwear as "prepared boots or shoes," but it seemed to have little basis and was disallowed.
On 21 July 1908, The Sporting Life published the following letter directed to the American Olympic team.
“Sir,-In connection with the complaint made by the American tug-of-war team regarding the boots worn by the Liverpool Police team, I should like to state that the City of London Police team are prepared to make a match with the Americans before they return home, in which both teams shall pull in stockinged feet. The match might take place at the Stadium on Wedneday or Thursday, and the City Police would be willing to pull for anything the Americans like in the way of a prize, or for nothing at all. We do not wish the Americans to go back home dissatisfied with their beating, and we therefore give them this opportunity of showing if they are as capable "tuggers" as they claim to be.-I am, &c.,
Captain City Police Team
London, July 20.”
The next day, The Sporting Life, ran the following short paragraph, which should have closed out the discussion, "Mr. Duke, who captained the winning team in the tug-of-war, has been provoked into issuing a challenge in reply to the complaint about the boots of the men of whom he is so proud. They are sportsmen to the backbone, but the incident must be considered closed by the statement of a member of the U.S.A. team that they were satisfied with the result, and they knew that they had met better men at the game than themselves. ‘We know really nothing about tug-of-war,' he said, ‘and before we can hope to hold our own with such a clock-work team as you can put in the field we must have considerable practice. Your men won easily, and they would win easily again, and what more need be said. I have nothing to say, at any rate, and there will be no more pulling by us.'"
But certain American athletes surely considered the Liverpool footwear as illegal. In the New York Evening World, the great American athlete Martin Sheridan wrote a column during the Olympics. In one edition (18 July), his article was as follows: "The American team was handed a real sour lemon here this afternoon when the tug-of-war event was announced. When our men went into the Stadium for the event they wore regulation shoes, without spikes or projecting nails or tips, as laid down in the rules for the contest. What was our surprise to find the English team wearing shoes as big as North River ferryboats, with steel-topped heels and steel cleats in the front of the soles, while spikes an inch long stuck out of the soles. The Englishmen had to waddle out on the field like a lot of County Mayo ganders going down to the public pond for a swim. The shoes they wore were the biggest things over here and were clearly made for the purpose of getting away with the event by hook as well as crook."
The secretary of the Liverpool Police Athletic Society finally addressed the question of "prepared boots" in a letter to the British Olympic Association.
“The policemen who pulled in the tug-of-war against the American team in the Olympic Games wore their ordinary duty boots, as it is their invariable custom to pull in such boots which have gone too shabby to be worn on street duty. The boots were not prepared or altered in any way.
[Signed] J. PARK
October 26, 1908
Hon. Secretary: Liverpool Police Athletic Society”
Much of the American attitude must be attributed to James E. Sullivan, who was in charge of the American Olympic team, and who lodged the official protest. In an article in The New York Herald he described ". . . the prepared shoes worn by the Liverpool policemen in the tug-of-war, and the work that dishonest officials did in the committee rooms." However, in A Reply to Certain Criticisms, it was noted, "The American athletes never wished, for instance, to protest against the tug-of-war. They knew that they had been fairly pulled over in a game of which they were completely ignorant, and for which their manager should never have entered them."