2 wars and a pandemic: Here are all the times in history that the Summer Olympics were canceled

On Tuesday, March 24, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee announced that the 2020 Summer Olympics would be postponed and “be held by the summer of 2021” amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the postponement was made official, numerous countries had publicly refused to send their athletes or urged for the postponement of the event itself.

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News of event cancellations and suspensions as a result of COVID-19 have been fairly common over the past weeks, but the postponement of Tokyo 2020 may still be shocking to athletic enthusiasts, even if they supported the decision. Billions of dollars in revenue and expenditures were projected for the 2020 Games, according to a budget provided by Tokyo2020.org.

The financial impact from the postponement may be unprecedented, but the postponement itself is not. 

There were three years in which the Summer Olympics were slated but did not occur: 1916, 1940 and 1944. 

In 1916, Berlin was set to host the games but the continuing devastation of World War I prompted the event to be canceled. The war would last until November 11, 1918, when the Armistice at Compiègne was signed, effectively ending all fighting between the Allies and Germany.

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In 1940, both the Summer and Winter Olympics were slated to take place. The Winter Olympics were to be held in Sapporo, Japan, but were canceled due to World War II. Sapporo would later host the Winter Olympics in 1972.

The 1940 Summer Olympics, however, were initially scheduled to be held in Tokyo, but Japan forfeited the games due to the country’s wartime concerns. The 1940 games were then given to Helsinki, Finland, but were canceled amidst the global war. Tokyo and Helsinki would each later host the Summer Games in 1964 and 1952, respectively.

In 1944, World War II prompted the cancellation of the Summer Olympics (slated to be held in London) and the Winter Olympics (scheduled for Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy). London would later host the Summer games in 1948 and 2012. Cortina d'Ampezzo would host the Winter games in 1956 and is slated to be one of the Italian host cities to host the winter athletic event in 2026, the other being Milan.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.