Halsbury Travel

How Did War Affect the Olympics?

Posted in: History

With the Rio Olympics just one month away, excitement is really building here at Halsbury HQ, especially in our sports team. The Olympics are always an historic event, but did you know that three Games have been cancelled due to conflict? 

1916 Olympic Games – Cancelled due to WWI

The 1916 Games were to be held in Berlin but were cancelled due to the outbreak of the First World War. The Games would eventually be held in Berlin in 1936. 


1936 Olympic Games in Berlin – Held despite concerns over the Nazi regime

The Nazi Party was in government by this time, although the decision to award Berlin the Games had happened in 1931, three years before the Nazis’ rise to power. 

The political situation in Germany at the time led many to question the morality of allowing the Games to go ahead, particularly with regards to the regime’s anti-Semitism. However, after assurances from Hitler that Jews would be permitted to compete (even on the German team), the Games went ahead. 

Seen by Hitler as a way to promote Aryan supremacy, the Games saw the first Olympic torch relay; a symbolic link to the Ancient Greeks, who he believed were Aryan predecessors. However, the Games are now remembered for the incredible success of Jesse Owens, which somewhat contradicted this idea of Aryan supremacy. Owens, an African-American athlete, became the Games’ most successful by winning four gold medals.  

1940 Olympic Games – Cancelled

The 1940 Olympic Games were originally set to be hosted by Tokyo. However, the Japanese pulled out in 1938, due to the Second Sino-Japanese War, which broke out in 1937. 

The Games were then awarded to the runners-up in the original bidding process, Helsinki. The Games were cancelled for a second time when the Winter War broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union. 

After this, the Games were then suspended indefinitely, whilst the Second World War played out. The Olympics did not take place again until 1948. 

1944 Olympic Games – Cancelled due to WWII

The 1944 Summer Olympics were due to be held in London, but were cancelled due to WWII, which would not end until 1945.



1948 Olympic Games – Held in London, known as the Austerity Games

As the intended host city of the 1944 Olympics, which were cancelled due to WWII, London was awarded the 1948 Olympics. After a hiatus of 12 years, London was awarded the Games in 1946, leaving the organisers just two years to get everything ready. 

The financial cost of war and ongoing war-time rationing led to these Games being nicknamed the ‘Austerity Games’. No new venues were constructed and no dedicated Olympic Village was built to house the athletes. Instead, male athletes were accommodated at nearby RAF camps, while female athletes stayed in London colleges. The athletes were, however, afforded greater rations, consuming up to 5,467 calories per day as opposed to the normal 2,600.

London very nearly gave up the right to host the Games in favour of the USA. However, King George VI supported the Games coming to London and felt it would have restorative effects on the city and the country as a whole after the devastation of WWII. 

Germany and Japan were not permitted to send any athletes to the 1948 Olympics. There were also no athletes from the Soviet Union who, although invited, declined to take part.

In hosting the 1948 Olympic Games, London became the second city (after Paris) to host the Games twice. In 2012, it became the first city to ever host the Games for a third time. 

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