The 1940 Olympics Were Canceled Because Of World War II

By Jacob Shelton
(Wada Sanzō/Wikimedia Commons)

The 1940 Olympic Games were supposed to be a coming-out party of sorts for Japan. Initially scheduled to take place from September 21–October 6, 1940 in Tokyo, the games were postponed after the country withdrew from their hosting duties to focus on going to war with China. The backup host, Helsinki, was set to host the games earlier in the year, but the outbreak of World War II ended the games completely. What would have been the first Olympics held outside of Europe and North America never happened, making the 1940 Olympics the games that never were.

Thirsty Tokyo

Japan started lobbying to hold the 1940 Olympics in 1932. They were hoping to showcase how far the country had come since suffering a devastating earth quake in 1923, and the opportunities for international diplomacy were also pretty tempting. Italy was the Olympic darling du jour, but the country's leader at the time, Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, displayed uncharacteristic grace when he agreed to step aside if Japan supported their efforts to nab the following summer games. It was a huge win for Japan: The games were to coincide with the 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu's rise to the throne as the man who brought Japan together under one imperial dynasty. Then, well ...