When Have The Olympics Last Been Cancelled?

In its 124-year history, the Olympics have been cancelled only during the World Wars

Saptak Choudhury Updated: Mar 24, 2020 19:19:10 IST
When Have The Olympics Last Been Cancelled? This year, we may not be witnessing the Olympic Games mascots Miraitowa and Somneity after all. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

As recently as last week, the International Olympic Competition (IOC) and the Japanese government were adamant that the Olympics would be held in July-August 2020 as per the schedule. Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Shinzo Abe had boldly proclaimed that Japan would overcome the spread of the virus.

The situation has now changed. As countries like Canada and Australia withdrew from the Games, the IOC and the Japanese PM decided, on Tuesday (24 March) to postpone the event until 2021. 

In its 124-year history, the Olympic Games have been cancelled only during the two World Wars which saw mass casualties. Here, we take a look at those rare occasions when the Olympics were cancelled or saw little participation.


World War I had been going on since 1914, but no one had foreseen that it would last this long. Berlin had successfully placed its bid in 1912 to host the 1916 Games, but with the war showing no signs of ending, the Games had to be cancelled. Berlin finally went on to host the event in 1936.


The Summer Olympics in 1940 was initially supposed to be held in Tokyo, Japan, between September and October. But, with the outbreak of World War II, the honour of hosting the event went to Helsinki in Finland—the city that was the runner-up in its bid. However, with the worsening war situation, even Helsinki could not host the Games. The Winter Olympics, scheduled earlier that year in Sapporo, Japan, had already been cancelled.


London would have seen the Summer Olympics, had it not been for a still-rampaging World War II. That year, the city of Cortina in Italy was also deprived of the chance of hosting an Olympic event with the cancellation of the Winter Olympics. London would finally host the event four years later.


The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, which antagonized the US. President Jimmy Carter, therefore, decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. While around 60 nations followed in the US’ footsteps, many did not, which included Britain and France. Some 5,000 athletes participated in the event, but the quality suffered and the medal tally was lopsided, primarily because of the US’ no-show.


This time, the Soviet Union led the call for boycotting the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It was supported by countries like East Germany and Cuba. While the Soviet Union said that the decision was taken because it didn’t trust the Ronald Reagan administration to provide security to Soviet athletes, many believed that this was an act of revenge against the US’ boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.

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