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Timeline: This Isn’t the First Time the Olympics Have Been Moved

Sport, politics, and world events have always been—and always will be— inextricably intertwined. The postponement of the 2020 Olympics is just one of many times the Games have fallen victim to larger world events.

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1896 Olympics in Athens
The 1896 Olympics in Athens. Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty Images


The first modern Games in the spirit of the Ancient Greeks are held in Athens. The idea almost lost steam, though, with the next two being swallowed up by their respective cities’ World Fairs in Paris and St. Louis.


Volcanoes! Rome was supposed to host these early Games, but in 1906 Mt. Vesuvius—yes, the same one that took out Pompeii—erupted and caused major destruction in Naples and around the mountain. The cost of rebuilding forced Italy to pull out of hosting duties, and London jumped in with just 10 months to prepare.


After World War I broke out in 1914, officials again considered moving the Olympics—this time from Berlin to somewhere more neutral, like the U.S.—but the main problem turned out to be that all of the men were away fighting and couldn’t compete in sports. The 1916 Games were canceled.

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics
Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games. Photo: Ullstein Bild / Getty Images


Oh, the 1936 Olympics. The Games that gave Hitler an unfortunate propaganda platform. Despite boycott proposals by many, the Berlin Olympics went on as planned and ended up being the last Games for more than 10 years. Tokyo was actually scheduled to host in 1940, but then waived that right after going to war with China. Moving the Olympics was considered, but ultimately widespread war stopped the ’40 and ’44 Games. (Interestingly, the 1944 Olympics were actually planned for summer in London and winter in northern Italy.)


While various countries have both boycotted and been banned over the years, 1980 was the most famous and largest boycott with the U.S. leading 66 countries to boycott the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.


Four years later, the Soviet Union led a 14-country boycott of the Los Angeles Games.


After missing out on the Games in 1940, Tokyo hosted in 1964—marred by boycotts by China and North Korea, and a ban on South Africa’s participation. Now the Japanese city will host the first-ever postponed Games, after the spread of COVID-19 forced them to delay the massive event until the summer of 2021.