Since the opening of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, international sports competition has only been canceled three times: once during the First World War (1916) and twice during the Second World War (1940, 1944). Until the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020, which postponed the Summer Olympics for a year, the Olympics withstood politically charged boycotts and two separate terrorist attacks without being canceled or postponed in time. peace.
The 1916 Olympics were supposed to be hosted by the German Empire, which had built an impressive 30,000-seat stadium in Berlin for the event. But with the outbreak of war in 1914 and the eventual participation of so many nations that sent athletes to the Olympic Games, the 1916 games were abandoned.
1920: Germany invited
The 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium, were the first in which a nation was actively invited. Germany was blamed for starting World War I, and even though the country was under a new Belgian government – known as the Weimar Republic – and later French Olympic officials banned German athletes from participating at the 1920 and 1924 Olympic Games.
Twenty years after the canceled Games of 1916, Germany was to host the Olympic Games again in 1936, this time under the Nazi flag. In America, a coalition of Jewish and Catholic groups called on the US Olympic Committee to boycott the games, but was ignored by committee chairman Avery Brundage, a Germanophile by profession.
Instead, the 1936 Berlin Games were allowed to take place under a Nazi regime determined to use sport to demonstrate Adolf Hitler’s theories of racial superiority. Jesse Owens, the African American athletics star, admitted that Hitler was wrong, winning four gold medals. In a lesser-known victory, the Indian field hockey team also defeated the Germans 8-1 in the men’s final.
World War II results in two cancellations of Olympic games
The last time the Olympics were canceled was during the Second World War. The 1940 Summer and Winter Olympics were both to be held in Japan, the first non-Western country to host the Games, but Japan renounced its rights in 1937 when it went to war against China. The 1940 games were originally reserved for Helsinki, Finland in the summer and the German city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the winter, but were eventually canceled in 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
London was supposed to host the 1944 Summer Olympics, but these were summarily canceled due to the ongoing war. Ditto for the 1944 winter games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. London eventually hosted the 1948 games, but banned German and Japanese athletes from participating.
Since its creation in 1894, the IOC has claimed to be an apolitical and neutral organization whose mission is to promote international peace and understanding through sport. But critics like David Goldblatt, a history professor at Pitzer College and author of The Games: A World History of the Olympic Games, repeatedly point out that Olympic officials have turned a blind eye to violent human rights violations in order to ensure the continuity of the Games.
Games continue in Mexico City despite massacre
Mexico City is a particularly damning example. Ten days before the opening of the 1968 summer games in Mexico City, government forces opened fire on a crowd of unarmed student demonstrators, killing hundreds if not thousands of people in what became the Tlatelolco massacre .
“The main theme of the Mexico Games was peace with the dove of peace icons throughout the city,” said Goldblatt. “The Mexican government massacres hundreds of students, then unleashes a reign of terror, torture and disappearance, throughout the matches, but the IOC does not blink.”
Likewise, the IOC was initially hesitant to ban Apartheid-era South Africa since the 1960 Olympics, but eventually yielded to pressure from African nations who said they would boycott the games if only white South African teams were allowed to to play. South Africa was finally excluded from the Olympic Games from 1960 to 1992, after the fall of apartheid.
Terrorism and the Olympic Games
Even one of the darkest chapters in Olympic history did not result in the games being canceled. In 1972, an armed gang of Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli complex at the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, killing two Israeli athletes and holding nine other hostages. In the ensuing deadlock, the nine remaining Israeli athletes were assassinated. Instead of canceling the Munich Games, Olympic officials continued the competition after a two-day suspension.
The 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Georgia were also allowed to continue after the detonation of a home-made bomb during a free concert at the Centennial Olympic Park. Two people died in the early morning explosion and more than a hundred were injured, but only a few hours later, the president of the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee said, “The spirit of the Olympic movement demands that we continue. “