Coronavirus: Have the Olympic Games ever been canceled? Only during wartime

2020 Olympics postponed due to coronavirus

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.

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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.

The Olympics have been canceled in 1916, 1940 and 1944. The 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021.
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)