French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the visionary who dreamed of reviving the Olympic Games. He believed such an event should be global and that “all people must be allowed in, without debate.” His dream became reality in 1896 when the first modern Olympics were held in Greece, their ancient birthplace. (These are the locations of the last 31 summer Olympic Games.)
As an expression of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, few international events have suffused its participants with more genuine feelings of friendship and understanding. Yet not all of the Olympics held since 1896 have been free of controversy and conflict. (These are the countries with the most Winter Olympics gold medals.)
To compile a list of Olympics that were canceled, boycotted, or postponed, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a history of each modern Olympic Games from the database Olympedia. Diplomatic boycotts, in which a country declines to send political representatives but still allows athletes to compete, were not considered.
Five times in the 20th century, world wars caused cancellation of the Games. Some of these international events have been tainted by geopolitical grandstanding, too, leading to bans and boycotts with Cold War tensions as the backdrop.
At other times, violence has scarred the Olympics, such as the terrorist attacks during the 1972 and 1996 Summer Olympics. And the advent of COVID-19 caused the postponement of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, the first such delay in Olympics history.
Although no nations are planning to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, politics is still intervening. The United States and Australia are refusing to send diplomats to the opening ceremonies in protest over China’s human rights record, which includes its repression of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority and its suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong.
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