Special Report

14 Times the Olympics Were Canceled, Boycotted, or Postponed

Source: Hulton Archive /Getty Images

1916 Summer Games
> Disruption: Cancellation
> Reason: War
> Location: Berlin

The modern Olympic Games had only been held five times since their modern-day resurgence when the event was canceled in 1916 because of World War I, which had been raging for about two years at the time. The Summer Games that year (there were no Winter Olympics until 1924) were supposed to have been held in Berlin, the capital of Germany, one of the combatants in the war.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

1936 Summer Games
> Disruption: Boycott
> Reason: Political
> Location: Berlin

Berlin was chosen as an Olympics venue in 1931, when the nation was a republic, and two years before the Nazis took power. The 1936 Summer Olympic Games were viewed by the Nazis as an opportunity to promote so-called Aryan superiority in sport.

By 1936, Germany’s anti-Semitic intentions were clear, and efforts to boycott the Games sprang up in Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands.

Various U.S. political figures and sports groups, including the American Athletic Union led by Jeremiah Mahoney, were against American participation. In the end, American Olympic Committee leader Avery Brundage opposed the boycott, saying politics had no place in sport. Some athletes who advocated a boycott backed a separate Olympics event in Spain, titled the “People’s Olympiad,” but that was canceled when the Spanish Civil War broke out shortly before it was to begin. Forty-nine nations attended the Berlin Olympics, the most up until that time. The Nazi fantasy of Aryan superiority suffered a blow when Jesse Owens, a Black American, won four gold medals – more than any other athlete at the games.

Source: Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty Images

1940 Summer Games
> Disruption: Cancellation
> Reason: War
> Location: Tokyo; Helsinki

Tokyo was originally chosen to host the Games, at least in part as a diplomatic attempt to connect Japan with the international community after the country’s army invaded Manchuria. After the Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937, however, the event was rescheduled for Helsinki. At that time, however, the Finnish nation was recovering from a brief but violent war with the Soviet Union and World War II had broken out in countries to the south of Finland, so the Games were canceled completely. In a curious footnote, prisoners of war in a camp near the German city of Nuremberg held their own “Olympics,” featuring athletes from Great Britain, France, Poland, Norway, and The Netherlands (and Helsinki hosted the games in 1952).

Source: Three Lions / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

1940 Winter Games
> Disruption: Cancellation
> Reason: War
> Location: Sapporo, Japan; St. Moritz, Switzerland; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The 1940 Winter Games had the unique distinction of being canceled not once but three times. They were originally scheduled to take place in Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido, the northernmost main Japanese island, but Japan bowed out in 1938, as the country was engaged in the Second Sino-Japanese War. The International Olympics Committee then awarded the Games to the Alpine town of St. Moritz, but withdrew the offer over a dispute about the professional status of ski instructors. Finally, the event was given to the picturesque German town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which had hosted them four years earlier. Just months before the Games were to begin, Germany invaded Poland, and as Europe devolved into World War II, the Winter Olympics were definitively canceled.

Source: Central Press / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

1944 Summer Games
> Disruption: Cancellation
> Reason: War
> Location: London

With World War II raging, the 1944 Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in London, were canceled. The UK capital had held the Summer Games in 1908 and would eventually host the Olympiad in 1948 and 2012.

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