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The Olympic Games that didn't happen

Cancellation, loss and postponement throughout the 20th century

beige badge with 1940 Olympic logo, photographed on a red background
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

The history of the modern Olympic Games is filled with dates, places and statistics - from host cities to world records.

But aside from the Olympic Games held so far since 1896, there have been a number of prospective games that have not come to reality.

Let's explore these histories that didn't happen, with objects and records that remain from these Olympic Games.

The Olympic Games have only been cancelled three times in the past (or 5 times if you count the Winter Olympics separately), and postponed once (in 2020). All the cancellations were as a result of world wars.

1916 Olympic Games

The 1916 Olympic Games were due to be held in Berlin, but was cancelled due to World War I.

Those games were due to include a winter sports week, which eventually led to first Winter Olympics which were held in 1924. The venue for the Games was to be the Deutsches Stadion which had been built in 1913.

Sanctions in the aftermath of World War I meant that the war's losing nations (and those blamed for starting it) were banned from competing or hosting the Games. Thus, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire were not part of the next Olympic Games.

Those games were eventually held in Antwerp in Belgium in 1920.

Berlin's opportunity to host the Games came again in 1936, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party used the Games as a massive propaganda exercise promoting their government and racist and antisemitic supremacy policies.

Those Olympics were held on the site of the previous Deutsches Stadion in a newly built Olympic Stadium.

1940 Olympic Games

The 1940 Olympic Games were originally due to be held in Tokyo, Japan. However, with the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japan forfeited their hosting.

beige badge with 1940 Tokyo Olympics logo, photographed on red background

The International Olympic Committee then awarded the Games to Helsinki, Finland, which had been the runner up in the original bidding process.

World War II had broken out in September 1939, with the Games' cancellation coming soon afterwards.

As this was just a few months beforehand, Helsinki's preparations were at an advanced stage. Construction of the Helsinki Olympic stadium had begun in 1934 and was completed by 1938.

bllue and white silk handkerchief with text about 1940 Olympic Games, and Olympic rings and Finnish flags

The 1940 Winter Olympic Games were originally scheduled to take place in Sapporo, Japan. With the outbreak of a war between Japan and China, Japan 'returned' the Games to the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC offered the Games to St Moritz in Switzerland but could not come to an agreement, so instead the games were given in early 1939 to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany where the 1936 Winter Olympic Games had been held. The 1940 Games did not go ahead due to Germany's invasion of Poland and subsequent World War II.

The 1936 Olympic Games (both summer and winter) were controversial due to Nazi Germany's use of the games as a propaganda tool for their racist and anti-semitic beliefs, as can be seen in this poster for the cancelled 1940 Winter Games.

1944 Olympic Games

The 1944 Summer Olympics had been awarded to London, United Kingdom.

In spite of the war, the International Olympic Committee held events in 1944 to mark the 50th anniversary of its foundation. In the Woldenberg (Dobiegniew) Oflag II-C Prisoner of War camp, Polish prisoners of war were given permission by the German captors to stage an unofficial Olympics in July and August 1944.

Four years later, London went on to host the 1948 Olympic Games.

The 1944 Winter Olympics were due to be hosted in February in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, but they were cancelled in 1941.

Cortina d'Ampezzo eventually hosted the 1956 Winter Olympic Games.

Bidding to host

The Olympics' sporting competitions are mirrored by competitions years before to host the Olympic Games. In more recent years, a number of German cities have entered the competition. Though none have been successful, artefacts and memorabilia testify to their bids, as well as to the opposition to them.

Berlin bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games which eventually were awarded to Sydney, Australia.

A number of German cities prepared to bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, with Leipzig being selected as an applicant city. London was the eventual host of the 2012 Games.

In 2020, the Olympic Games once again faced cancellation due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the event was postponed to 2021 - showing that global events impact on the Olympic Games in the 21st century as they did in the 20th century.

This blog is part of the Europeana XX. A Century of Change project which focuses on the 20th century and its social, political and economic changes.

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