Have the Olympic Games ever been cancelled?

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced sporting events to be cancelled all over the world, with the latest casualty being the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July – now postponed until summer 2021 at least. Have the modern Olympics ever been called off before? More than once as it happens, writes Jonny Wilkes forBBC History Revealed

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Arrives Japan

Coronavirus has thrown the 2020 sporting calendar (and quite a lot else) into complete disarray, with the even the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo being postponed until 2021. But it’s not the first time the Olympics have had to be put on hold: since sprinting into life in 1896, the modern Olympics has been cancelled three times, all on account of a world war.

Organisers of the 1916 games in Berlin eventually had to accept the war would not be ‘over by Christmas’ before cancelling. The next time Berlin had a chance to host, 20 years later in 1936 under the looming presence of Adolf Hitler, would be the last for a while. During World War II, the Olympics in 1940 and 1944 were shelved… twice, seeing that the summer and winter games used to take place in the same year.

Coronavirus has thrown the 2020 sporting calendar (and quite a lot else) into complete disarray, with the even the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo being postponed until 2021. But it’s not the first time the Olympics have had to be put on hold: since sprinting into life in 1896, the modern Olympics has been cancelled three times, all on account of a world war.

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Organisers of the 1916 games in Berlin eventually had to accept the war would not be ‘over by Christmas’ before cancelling. The next time Berlin had a chance to host, 20 years later in 1936 under the looming presence of Adolf Hitler, would be the last for a while. During World War II, the Olympics in 1940 and 1944 were shelved… twice, seeing that the summer and winter games used to take place in the same year.

That said, 1944 did witness an Olympics of sorts. Polish prisoners of war in Oflag II-C camp convinced their German captors to let them host an honorary games. They even made a flag of the Olympic rings out of a bedsheet and coloured scarves.

They competed in sports including football, handball and volleyball, as well as track and field events, but also painting, sculpture and music. The Germans forbade fencing, archery, javelin and pole vault, however, for obvious reasons.

Jonny Wilkes is a freelance writer specialising in history

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This content was taken from BBC History Revealed