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Since the opening of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the international sports competition has only been canceled three times: once during World War I (1916) and twice during World War II (1940, 1944). Until the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, which postponed the Summer Olympic games for a year, the Olympics weathered politically charged boycotts and two separate terrorist attacks without being canceled or postponed during peacetime.
The 1916 Olympics were supposed to be hosted by the German Empire, which had built an impressive 30,000-seat stadium in Berlin for the event. But with the outbreak of war in 1914, and the eventual involvement of so many nations who sent athletes to the Olympics, the 1916 games were scrapped.
PHOTOS: WWI Soldiers Held their Own Olympics After the War
1920: Germany Disinvited
The 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium were the first in which a nation was actively disinvited. Germany was blamed for starting World War I, and even though the country was under a new government—known as the Weimar Republic—Belgian, and later French Olympic officials banned German athletes from participating in both the 1920 and 1924 Olympics.
Twenty years after the canceled 1916 games, Germany was again due to host the Olympics in 1936, this time under the Nazi flag. In America, a coalition of Jewish and Catholic groups called on the U.S. Olympic Committee to boycott the games, but was ignored by the committee president Avery Brundage, a professed Germanophile.
Instead, the 1936 Berlin Games were allowed to go on amid a Nazi regime intent on using sport to demonstrate Adolf Hitler’s theories of racial superiority. Jesse Owens, the African American track and field star, famously proved Hitler wrong, taking home four gold medals. In a lesser-known victory, India’s underdog field hockey team also crushed the Germans 8-1 in the men’s final.
World War II Leads to Two Olympic Game Cancellations
The last time the Olympics were canceled was during World War II. The 1940 summer and winter Olympics were both scheduled to be held in Japan, the first non-Western country to host the games, but Japan forfeited its rights in 1937 when it went to war with China. The 1940 games were initially rebooked for Helsinki, Finland in the summer and the German town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the winter, but finally canceled in 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
London was supposed to host the 1944 summer Olympics, but those were summarily canceled due to the ongoing war. Same for the 1944 winter games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. London eventually hosted the 1948 games, but banned German and Japanese athletes from participation.
Since its inception in 1894, the IOC has claimed to be an apolitical and neutral body with the mission to promote international peace and understanding through sport. But critics like David Goldblatt, professor of history at Pitzer College and author of The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, point to numerous times when Olympic officials turned a blind eye to violent human rights violations in order to ensure that the games went on.
Games Continued in Mexico City Despite Massacre
Mexico City is a particularly damning example. Ten days before the 1968 summer games were set to open in Mexico City, government forces opened fire on crowds of unarmed student protestors, killing hundreds if not thousands in what became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre.
“The main theme of the Mexico City games was peace with icons of the dove of peace all over the city,” says Goldblatt. “The Mexican government slaughters hundreds of students and then unleashes a reign of terror and torture and disappearance, all while the games are going on, but the IOC doesn’t blink an eye.”
Likewise, the IOC was initially hesitant to ban Apartheid-era South Africa from the 1960 Olympics, but eventually bowed to the pressure of African nations who said they would boycott the games if whites-only South African teams were allowed to play. South Africa was eventually barred from the Olympics from 1960 until 1992, after the fall of Apartheid.
Terrorism and the Olympic Games
Even one of the darkest chapters of Olympic history didn’t lead to a cancellation of the games. In 1972, an armed band of Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli compound at the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, killing two Israeli athletes and holding another nine hostage. In the ensuing standoff, all nine remaining Israeli athletes were murdered. Instead of calling off the Munich games, Olympic officials continued the competition after a two-day suspension.
The 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Georgia, were also allowed to go on after a homemade bomb exploded during a free concert in Centennial Olympic Park. Two people died in the early-morning blast and more than a hundred were injured, but only a few hours later, the president of Atlanta’s Olympic organizing committee said, "The spirit of the Olympic movement mandates that we continue."
Postponement Of Olympics Created Challenges, And Opportunities, For Athletes Headed To Tokyo
American weightlifter Katherine Nye is headed to the Tokyo Olympics this summer, a year after the . [+] coronavirus pandemic caused a postponement of the Games.
Red Phoenix Entertainment
Katherine Nye says when she first heard the announcement by then Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the news was difficult to digest.
After four years of hard work and training for the chance to earn an Olympic medal in weightlifting, Nye’s sport, everything came to a sudden halt.
“My first reaction was honestly, shocked, and I couldn’t really absorb the information right away, because the Olympics is a concrete event,” says the 22-year-old Nye, a former gymnast who began lifting in 2016. “We know it’s every four years. This was just different in a way that, I thought the Olympics was untouchable at the time. This was still early with the coronavirus. I thought they could potentially redact the statement, change their mind and make it happen.”
But the pandemic not only forced a postponement of the Olympics, it shut down sports globally, upending athletes’ livelihoods everywhere. The historic announcement of the Tokyo Summer Games being moved to 2021 — the Olympics had never been postponed before and had only been cancelled due to war (World War I and World War II) — created challenges, as well as opportunities, for Nye, two other American Olympic athletes and one Paralympian, while they navigated unfamiliar terrain.
For Nye, and distance runner Abdi Abdirahman, there was a significant mental toll in the wake of the postponement — “I had just made my fifth Olympic team. You go from an emotional high and a few weeks later you are ordered to stay home,” says Abdirahman — while Paralympic swimmer Morgan Stickney and climber Colin Duffy said the year-plus pause provided a much-needed window of time.
“When the pandemic first hit, I was just learning how to walk right before the whole world shut down,” says Stickney, a bilateral amputee who lost both of her legs from avascular necrosis, a condition in which bones die due to lack of blood flow. “I was learning how to use two prosthetic legs, and I was just getting back in the pool. I’m really blessed that the Olympics got postponed. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go. I used this past year to better myself, be the best prepared I can be for Tokyo.”
Coronavirus: Have the Olympic Games ever been canceled? Only during wartime
The postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics is unprecedented. Since the modern Olympics began in 1896, the Games have never been delayed. However, the quadrennial event has been canceled because of war.
The Summer Games were canceled in 1916 due to World War I and in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II. The Winter Games, established in 1924, were similarly canceled in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow because of Cold War tensions, and the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles for similar reasons.
Breaking News: The Summer Olympics will be postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. They were scheduled to begin in Tokyo in late July. https://t.co/12J4FWXska&mdash The New York Times (@nytimes) March 24, 2020
In 1972, the Munich Games were disrupted by an attack from Palestinian terrorists that resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic squad.
“The Games must go on,” IOC President Avery Brundage said in the aftermath of the attack.
Here is the history of Olympic cancellations.
1916: On April 11, 1916, International Olympic Committee President Pierre de Goubertin told The Associated Press the games, which were scheduled to be held in Berlin, would be canceled due to World War I. Berlin had won the original bidding for the games, beating out Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest, Cleveland, and Alexandria, Egypt. Germany had constructed a new Deustches Stadion (German Stadium) in 1913. However, the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914, which was in a deadly stalemate by 1916, ended any hopes of the Summer Games. The Olympics would return in 1920 and be hosted by Antwerp, Belgium. Berlin would finally get to host the games in 1936.
1940: Both the Summer and Winter Games, to be held in Japan, were called off in 1940. The Summer Games were scheduled for Tokyo, while the Winter Games were planned for Sapporo. Both cities won bids for the Games in 1936, marking the first time the competition would be held in Asia. A war between Japan and China, which broke out in 1937, led the Japanese government to forfeit its rights as hosts, Time reported. Government officials in Japan said the war required "the spiritual and material mobilization of Japan. The 1940 Summer Games were rescheduled for Helsinki, Finland, and the Winter Games were moved to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. However, the outbreak of World War II in 1939 ended any hopes for Olympics competition, and the Games were officially canceled April 23, 1940, “due to the war,” according to The Associated Press. Tokyo would eventually host the Summer Games in 1964, while Sapporo held the Winter Games in 1972.
1944: The situation remained the same in 1944. London was to have hosted the Summer Games, while the Winter Games were scheduled for Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. The continuation of World War II made contesting the Games impossible. London would eventually host the Summer Games in 1948 and again in 2012. Cortina d’Ampezzo would host the 1956 Winter Games.
Coronavirus: Have the Olympic Games ever been canceled? Only during wartime The Olympics have been canceled in 1916, 1940 and 1944. The 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021. (Getty Images/Getty Images North America Photo Illustration)
Yes, the Olympic Games have been canceled before.
In modern history, the Olympics have been canceled a total of five times due to war (via People). The 1916 Summer Olympics, which was scheduled in Berlin, Germany, was canceled due to World War 1. In 1940 and 1944 the Winter and Summer Olympics were also called off due to World War II.
The last time the Games have been canceled was during World War II.
So, when will the committee decide the fate of the 2020 Summer Olympics?
“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound told the AP. 𠇊 lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”
However, Pound explained that the IOC could decide to move the Olympics to another city.
He continued, “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”
Coronavirus: Other times the Olympics have been postponed or canceled
Japan and the International Olympics Committee officially agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympics on Tuesday. The decision came after multiple conversations between Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach. With the games just a few months away and not enough progress made with tackling the coronavirus outbreak, this was a long time coming, especially after Canada and Australia both announced they would not be sending their athletes to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympics are of course a major production to put on. Athletes, fans, broadcasters and workers come from all over the world for the event. The Olympics have been interrupted before, but rarely have they been postponed or canceled. Here's a look at those occasions.
1916 Summer Olympics
These games were canceled because of World War I. They were scheduled to be held in Berlin. The war began in 1914 and lasted until the winter of 1918. Berlin eventually got to host the Summer Games in 1936, which were the last games to be played before the start of World War II.
The 1940 Summer and Winter Olympics
Both were called off due to World War II. The summer games were scheduled to take place in Tokyo. They were rescheduled for Helsinki, Finland, but then eventually canceled altogether. The Winter Olympics were set for Sapporo, Japan but moved because of the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. They were eventually set to take place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany but the second world war caused the cancellation of the games entirely.
The 1944 Summer and Winter Olympics
World War II lasted long enough that is also caused the cancellation of the 1944 Games. London won the bid for the Summer Games, while Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy was awarded the Winter Games. Neither got to host in that elected year due to the war. Cortina d'Ampezzo eventually hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics.
The 1916 Summer Olympics
In the run-up to the 1916 Summer Olympics, the German Empire beat bids from Alexandria, Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest and Cleveland to host the Games and in 1913 constructed a new “Deutsches Stadion” (“German Stadium”) that could officially seat 30,000 people.
The Berlin Games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War I in July 1914. Organizers initially thought that the war would be “over by Christmas” but an armistice was not reached until November 1918.
Some two decades later, the Deutsches Stadion was torn down to make way for the Olympic Stadium intended for the 1936 Summer Games, when Berlin got its next chance to host. When 1936 arrived, roughly 5,000 athletes from 51 countries competed with an audience of 10,000 people &mdash but those games would be infamous too, as by that time Hitler had come to power.
6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled
The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.
The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.
It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.
The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.
Olympics: What years have the Games been cancelled in history and why?
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games have been postponed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
A joint statement from the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee confirmed the news, following a conference call on Tuesday.
The Games will not now take place in 2020, but will happen no later than the summer of 2021.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO (World Health Organisation) today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” the statement read.
“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.
“Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
Tokyo had completed preparations when the virus started spreading across the world. Despite insisting for months the Games would go ahead as planned, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe relented this week admitting a delay may be unavoidable if the events could not be held in a complete form and so it has proved.
It is not the first time the Games have been postponed, however.
1916 Summer Olympics (Berlin)
The 1916 Summer Olympics were due to be held in Berlin, but were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.
A winter sports week with speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and Nordic skiing was planned, events which eventually prompted the first Winter Olympics.
Berlin beat Barcelona to host the 1936 Summer Olympics, but it was shrouded in controversy as Nazi leader Adolf Hitler used the Games as a propaganda tool.
1940 Summer and Winter Olympics (Tokyo/Helsinki)
The decision to postpone Tokyo 2020 is a cruel irony as the Japanese hosts have been here before.
Tokyo beat Barcelona, Rome and Helsinki to become the first non-Western city to stage the Olympics in 1940, but were eventually forfeited after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Helsinki was then awarded the Games before the Second World War saw both the summer and winter editions cancelled.
The 1940 Winter Olympics in Japan were also cancelled.
Tokyo (1964) and Sapporo (1972) later hosted Summer and Winter Games.
1944 Summer and Winter Olympics (London)
London would have hosted its second Summer Olympics in 1944, 36 years after its first, but for World War II.
But London, which had beaten Rome, Detroit, Lausanne, Athens, Budapest, Helsinki and Montreal in a 1939 ballot, would stage the 1948 Summer Olympics three years after the war had ended.
Italy’s Cortina d’Ampezzo had been awarded the 1944 Winter Olympics, but had to wait 12 years for its chance with St Moritz (1948) and Oslo (1952) acting as hosts in between.
Other Olympic Games have of course been tainted by dark moments.
1972 Summer Olympics (Munich)
The Munich Olympics were tainted by tragedy when the Palestinian terrorist group Black September took 11 Israel team members hostage and killed them along with a West German police officer.
Police officers killed five of the eight Black September members during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages.
The other three terrorists were captured, but later released in a hostage exchange following the hijacking of an aircraft.
Competition continued after a 34-hour suspension and a memorial service, but the remaining members of the Israel team withdrew from the Games and left Munich.
1996 Summer Olympics (Atlanta)
The Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta proved deadly, but could have been so much worse.
Security guard Richard Jewell discovered the pipe bomb and immediately notified law enforcement, allowing many people to be evacuated from the area as possible before it exploded.
Spectator Alice Hawthorne was killed, 111 others were wounded, and the blast caused the death of Melih Uzunyol by heart attack.
Eric Robert Rudolph confessed to the bombing in 2003 and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Coronavirus: Olympics Postponed For the First Time in 124-Year History
The Tokyo Olympics were postponed on Tuesday into 2021.
A banner for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics is seen behind traffic lights, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan, March 23, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato
Tokyo/Athens: The Tokyo Olympics were postponed on Tuesday into 2021, the first such delay in the Games’ 124-year modern history, as the coronavirus crisis wrecked the last international sporting showpiece still standing this year.
Though a huge blow to Japan, which invested $12 billion in the run-up, the decision was a relief to thousands of athletes fretting over how to train as the world headed into lockdown over the disease that has claimed more than 16,500 lives.
Pressure had been building on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its powerful president Thomas Bach, with some athletes and sporting bodies critical of the time taken to make an inevitable decision.
After a call with Bach, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the July 24-August 9 competition would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest as proof of victory over the virus.
“We asked President Bach to consider postponement of about one year to make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition,” Abe said.
“President Bach said he is in agreement 100 percent.”
Though it was the first Olympics’ postponement, they were cancelled outright several times during the two 20th century World Wars. Major Cold War boycotts also disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984.
To safeguard the health of the athletes and everyone involved in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will now take place no later than summer 2021.
— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) March 24, 2020
Athletes sad but relief
Athletes were disappointed but broadly endorsed the delay, given health risks and disruption to their training as gyms, stadia and swimming pools shut down around the world.
“I compete in a little bike race, which is nothing compared to what is going on in the world right now,” American Olympic BMX champion Connor Fields said, before the official announcement. “No sport is more important if it means more people might potentially die from this.”
Australia’s two-time Olympic champion swimmer, Cate Campbell, said she was reeling but ready for the new challenge.
“The goal posts haven’t disappeared – just shifted,” she said, after her nation had announced it would not go to Tokyo 2020 if it went ahead.
US skateboarder and gold medal hopeful Nyjah Huston was frustrated, though, especially given his sport was scheduled to make its debut at the Tokyo.
“When skating finally makes it in the Olympics then it gets postponed,” the 25-year-old wrote on Instagram, after a delay had begun to look inevitable. “I was feelin (sic) ready too … now I’m going to have to be a year older for this!”
The coronavirus outbreak has raged around the world since early this year, infecting nearly 380,000 people and wrecking sports events from the soccer Euros to Formula One.
Despite their disappointment, not to mention the logistical headaches and financial losses coming, a poll showed about 70% of Japanese agreed with a delay.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters the delayed Games would still be branded “Tokyo 2020”.
Jumper with no sandpit
In a crowded sporting calendar, which will be making up for this year’s cancellations, World Athletics said it would be willing to move the 2021 world championships, scheduled for August 6-15 in Oregon to clear a path for the Olympics.
The Athletics Association said a survey of more than 4,000 track and field competitors showed 78% wanted the Games delayed.
The association’s American founder, twice Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, is among athletes unable to train due to social distancing and closure of facilities.
“There is no sandpit for me, I have not put on jump spikes for two weeks,” he told Britain’s Times newspaper.
Tuesday’s decision came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at Japan’s newly built National Stadium, which was to usher in the 16-day carnival of sport featuring 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories.
It was not the first time a Japanese Olympics has run into problems. Both the 1940 Summer and Winter Olympic Games were due to be held in Japan but were cancelled due to World War Two.
It was not yet clear whether the 57% of athletes who had already secured spots in Tokyo would need to qualify again for the re-arranged Olympics.
Olympics history: Have the Games been postponed before?
The International Olympic Committee took the extraordinary step Tuesday of postponing the 2020 Tokyo Games, which were scheduled to start July 24, because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Just how extraordinary was this step? This marks only the fourth time since the first modern Olympics were held in 1896 that the Games have been drastically affected by outside forces. The other three occasions were cancellations during the first and second World Wars.
So this is the first time the Olympics have been postponed, rather than canceled.
“The Tokyo Olympics will not be canceled,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo after a call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on the matter.
The IOC later said in a statement that the Games will be "rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021."
Berlin was set to host the 1916 Summer Games (the Winter Games did not begin until 1924), which were canceled because of the outbreak of World War I. The city later hosted the 1936 Olympics after Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany. Those Games would be the last for 12 years because of World War II.
Tokyo and Sapporo, Japan, were originally awarded the 1940 Winter and Summer Olympics, but the Japanese government pulled out after war broke out with China in 1937. The Winter Games were then awarded to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany and the Summer Games went to Helsinki, Finland. But the Olympics were canceled altogether in 1939 after the Nazi invasion of Poland.
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, was slated to host the 1944 Winter Games and London the Summer Games that year, but the ongoing war led to the cancellation of those events as well. Tokyo, Helinski, Cortina d’Ampezzo and London all hosted future Games.
This time around, it's a pandemic, not a war, that is altering the Olympics schedule. The IOC said in its statement that "the leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present."