The Olympic Games and World War

Olympic Games Abandoned Due to War

During World War I and World War II the following Olympic games were abandoned:

  • World War I:
    • 1916 Summer Olympics.
  • World War II:
    • 1940 Summer Olympics.
    • 1940 Winter Olympics.
    • 1944 Summer Olympics.
    • 1944 Winter Olympics.

Refer to the 1952 Inter-Camp POW Olympics, the 1936 Summer Olympics, and the 1936 Winter Olympics.

1916 Summer Olympics

The 1916 Summer Olympics (German: Olympische Sommerspiele 1916), officially known as the Games of the VI Olympiad, were scheduled to be held in Berlin, German Empire, but were eventually cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. Berlin was selected as the host city during the 14th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Stockholm on 04 July 1912, defeating bids from Alexandria, Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest and Cleveland. After the 1916 Games were cancelled, Berlin would eventually host the 1936 Summer Olympics, twenty years later.

Brief History

Work on the stadium, the Deutsches Stadion (“German Stadium”), began in 1912 at what was the Grunewald Race Course. It was planned to seat more than 18,000 spectators. On 08 June 1913, the stadium was dedicated with the release of 10,000 pigeons. 60,000 people were in attendance.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, organisation continued as no one expected that the war would continue for several years. Eventually, though, the Games were cancelled.

A winter sports week with speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and Nordic skiing was planned; the concept of this week eventually gave rise to the first Winter Olympic Games. The central venue was to have been the Deutsches Stadion.

Berlin returned to Olympic bidding in 1931, when it beat Barcelona, Spain, for the right to host the 1936 Summer Olympics, the last Olympics before the outbreak of World War II.

1940 Summer Olympics

The 1940 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XII Olympiad, were originally scheduled to be held from 21 September to 06 October 1940, in Tokyo, Japan. They were rescheduled for Helsinki, Finland, to be held from 20 July to 04 August 1940, but were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. Helsinki and Tokyo eventually hosted the 1952 and 1964 Summer Olympics respectively.

1940 Tokyo Olympics

The campaign to choose a city for 1940 began in 1932, with Barcelona, Rome, Helsinki, and Tokyo participating. Tokyo city officials suggested a campaign as a means of international diplomacy following Japan’s alienation from the League of Nations due to the Mukden Incident, in which Japan occupied Manchuria and created the puppet state of Manchukuo.

While both Tokyo officials and IOC representatives were behind the campaign, the national government, which was ever more interested in military matters, did not have any strong supporters for such a diplomatic gesture. In 1936, Tokyo was chosen in a surprise move, making it the first non-Western city to win an Olympic bid.

1930s Japan and International Sports

During the 1930 Far Eastern Games in Tokyo, Indian participants were spotted flying the flag of their independence movement rather than the flag of British India. This caused a complaint from the British Olympic Association. In 1934 Japan attempted to invite European colonies to the Far Eastern Games.


The main stadium was initially to be the Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium — later used at the 1964 Summer Olympics — reconstructed to accommodate 100,000 spectators; however the Shrines Bureau of Home Ministry, which had jusrisdiction over the Meiji Jingu precinct, strongly opposed the reconstruction. Subsequesntly a new stadium was planned at the Komazawa Olympic Park, away from the city center. The Olympic Village was to be built on the present sites of Kinuta Park or Todoroki Gorge. A schedule was drawn up, and guidelines were printed in four languages. Monthly magazines and posters were printed and distributed internationally. Construction began on some buildings, and arrangements were made with hotels, travel agents, and airlines for easy access.[3]

Forfeiture of Games

When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out on 07 July 1937, Kono Ichiro, a member of the Diet (legislature), immediately requested that the Olympics be forfeited. The 1938 Far Eastern Games were also cancelled, but Japan’s IOC delegates persisted under a belief that the war would soon be over. Amid the intensification of the war, the feasibility of both the Summer Olympics and the 1940 Winter Olympics grew increasingly questionable to other countries, who suggested a different site be chosen and spoke of the possibility of boycotting the Games were they to proceed in Japan.

In March 1938, the Japanese provided reassurances to the IOC at the organization’s Cairo conference that Tokyo would still be able to serve as the host city. However, many Diet members in Japan had already openly questioned hosting the Olympics in wartime, and the military was unreasonably demanding that the organisers build the venues from wood because they needed metals for the war front. In July, a legislative session was held to decide the matters of the Summer and Winter Olympics and the planned 1940 World’s Fair all at once. The World’s Fair was only “postponed”, under a belief that Japan would be able to wrap up the war, but the Olympics could not be moved and was cancelled.

Kōichi Kido, who would later be instrumental in the surrender of Japan in 1945, announced the forfeiture on 16 July 1938. He closed his speech saying, “When peace reigns again in the Far East, we can then invite the Games to Tokyo and take that opportunity to prove to the people of the world the true Japanese spirit.” This would come to pass in 1964.

Despite the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics, the Tokyo organising committee released its budget for the Games. In a departure from standard practice, the budget included all capital outlays as well as direct organising costs. The total budget was ¥20.1 million, one-third of which would have been paid by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

Helsinki and Other Competitions

The IOC then awarded the Games to Helsinki, Finland, the city that had been the runner-up in the original bidding process. The Games were then scheduled to be staged from 20 July to 04 August 1940. The Olympic Games were suspended indefinitely following the outbreak of World War II (Winter War in particular) and did not resume until the London Games of 1948.

With the Olympics cancelled, the major international athletics event of the year turned out to be the annual Finland-Sweden athletics international, held at the new Helsinki Olympic Stadium, exceptionally held as a triple international among Finland, Sweden and Germany. Gliding was due to be an Olympic sport in the 1940 Games after a demonstration at the Berlin Games in 1936. The sport has not been featured in any Games since, though the glider designed for it, the DFS Olympia Meise, was produced in large numbers after the war.

Meanwhile, Japan hosted the 1940 East Asian Games in Tokyo, with six participating nations. Helsinki eventually held the 1952 Summer Olympics, while Tokyo held the 1964 Summer Olympics and is scheduled to hold the 2020 Summer Olympics, although the event was then postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During August 1940, prisoners of war celebrated a “special Olympics” called the International Prisoner-of-War Olympic Games at Stalag XIII-A in Langwasser, near Nuremberg, Germany. An Olympic flag, 29 by 46 cm in size, was made of a Polish prisoner’s shirt and, drawn in crayon, it featured the Olympic rings and banners for Belgium, France, Great Britain, Norway, Poland, and the Netherlands. A feature film, Olimpiada ’40, produced by the director Andrzej Kotkowski in 1980 tells the story of these games and of one of the prisoners of war, Teodor Niewiadomski.


Had the 1940 Summer Games been held, a never-before used method of bringing the Olympic Flame from Nazi Germany to Japan was proposed – by air delivery, in the purpose-built Messerschmitt Me 261 Adolfine long-range aircraft, which was designed to have a maximum range of some 11,024 km (6,850 mi) unrefuelled.

1940 Winter Olympics

The 1940 Winter Olympics, which would have been officially known as the V Olympic Winter Games (第五回オリンピック冬季競技大会, Dai Go-kai Orinpikku Tōkikyōgi Taikai), were to have been celebrated from 03 to 12 February 1940 in Sapporo, Japan, but the games were eventually cancelled due to the onset of World War II. Sapporo subsequently hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics.

Brief History

Sapporo was selected to be the host of the fifth edition of the Winter Olympics, scheduled 03 to 12 February 1940, but Japan gave the Games back to the IOC in July 1938, after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The IOC then decided to give the Winter Olympics to St. Moritz, Switzerland, which had hosted it in 1928. However, the Swiss organisers believed that ski instructors should be considered professionals. The IOC was not of that mind, and the Games were withdrawn again.

In the spring of 1939, the IOC gave the 1940 Winter Olympics, now scheduled for 02 to 11 February, to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where the previous Games had been held. Five months later, on 1 September, Germany invaded Poland, igniting World War II, and the Winter Games were cancelled in November. Likewise, the 1944 Games, awarded in 1939 to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, were cancelled in 1941. St. Moritz held the first post-war games in 1948, while Cortina d’Ampezzo hosted in 1956.

Germany has not hosted the Winter Olympics since 1936: on 06 July 2011; Munich lost to Pyeongchang, South Korea to host the 2018 Winter Games.

1944 Summer Olympics

The 1944 Summer Olympics, which were to be officially known as the Games of the XIII Olympiad, were cancelled due to World War II.

Brief History

It would have been held in London, United Kingdom, which won the bid on the first ballot in a June 1939 IOC election over Rome, Detroit, Lausanne, Athens, Budapest, Helsinki and Montreal. The selection was made at the 38th IOC Session in London in 1939.

Because of the cancellation, London went on to host the 1948 Summer Olympics.

In spite of the war, the IOC organised many events to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Held from 17 to 19 June 1944, this celebration was referred to as “The Jubilee Celebrations of IOC” by Carl Diem, the originator of the modern tradition of the Olympic torch relay.

Polish Prisoners of War (POWs) in the Woldenberg (Dobiegniew) Oflag II-C POW camp were granted permission by their German captors to stage an unofficial POW Olympics during 23 July to 13 August 1944, and an Olympic Flag made with a bed sheet and pieces of coloured scarves was raised. The event has been considered to be a demonstration of the Olympic spirit transcending war.

Bid Results

IOC voting for city in Round 1:

  • London (UK): 20.
  • Rome (Italy): 11.
  • Detroit (US): 2.
  • Lausanne (Switzerland): 1.
  • Athens (Greece): 0.
  • Budapest (Hungary): 0.
  • Helsinki (Finland): 0.
  • Montreal (Canada): 0.

1944 Winter Olympics

The 1944 Winter Olympics, which would have been officially known as the V Olympic Winter Games (after the cancellation of 1940’s V Olympic Winter Games) (Italian: V Giochi olimpici invernali), were to have been celebrated in February 1944 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Cortina d’Ampezzo had been awarded the games in June 1939, but with the onset of World War II, the 1944 Winter Olympics were cancelled in 1941.

The V Olympic Winter Games eventually took place in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1948; Cortina d’Ampezzo eventually hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics and will co-host the 2026 Winter Olympics with Milan.


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