How often have the Olympics been cancelled?

With the worldwide spread of coronavirus causing many sports events to be cancelled or postponed – from Paris half-marathon to WTS Abu Dhabi, not to mention large events like Geneva Motor Show – it is unsurprising that rumours are flying about the 2020 Olympics. 


While a final decision about the Tokyo Olympics is probably a few months away, we take a look at the times the Games have been cancelled and boycotted.

The first official modern Olympiad took place in 1896 and the first games to be cancelled was just 20 years later, the 1916 Berlin Olympics due to WW1. As a result of being blamed for the war Germany was subsequently banned from taking part in the 1920 and 1924 games, and they had to wait 20 years before getting the chance to host them again – and that was the infamous 1936 Games.

The 1940 games were to be hosted by Tokyo, but with WW2 in full swing they were never going to happen, even though at that point Japan were not part of the war. It would be 1964 before Japan got that chance again.

1944 would have been London’s year, having won the vote in 1939, but as the war still raged the city would have to wait another four years to host the games. As a result of nearly six years of total war the 1948 Olympics became known as The Austerity Games.

Since then the games have always run every four years, but there has been plenty of controversy, including the 1980 Moscow Games. In December 1979 The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which caused around 62 nations, including the USA, to boycott the games.


Whether Tokyo 2020 becomes the fourth games to be cancelled or the first to be postponed/relocated waits to be seen, but if it is doesn’t go ahead it will be the first games pulled due to pandemic fears, and the second time Tokyo has had them cancelled.