Tokyo Games Disrupted – 80 Years Ago

John Bull is resting for the 1940 Olympic Games.

1 August 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

This year is 80 years since it was not the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Göran R Buckhorn writes.

Now is the time when it’s not the Olympic Games in Tokyo. As we all know, the COVID-19 outbreak pushed the Games till next year.

It’s not the first time the Games have been disrupted, slipping out of the hands of the Japanese. The first time was in 1940 when the Games were supposed to be held from 21 September to 6 October in Tokyo.

The Japanese campaign to host the 1940 Olympic Games started already in 1932, and four years later, it was decided that Tokyo, as the first non-Western city, had won the Olympic bid. However, the Second Sino-Japanese War, which started in July 1937 (and would last until September 1945) put a stop to the Games in Tokyo. The military in Japan thought they were easily going to wrap up the war in times for the 1940 Games but told the organisers to build all the venues from wood as the metals were needed for the war. In March 1938, Japan informed the IOC that the country intended to host the Games. Nonetheless, in July the same year, Japan pulled back its bid.

The IOC then awarded the 1940 Games to the original runner-upper, the Finnish capital Helsinki with competitions between 20 July and 4 August. With Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland on 1 September 1939, the Games for the next year came into question. The Finnish dream to host the Games was ultimately crushed three months later, on 30 November, when Soviet forces invaded Finland, for what was to be known as the Winter War.

In the Punch cartoon above from 26 August 1936, the personification of the UK (or England), the stoutly-looking John Bull – here without his tailcoat, breeches and top hat, but with a Union Jack shirt, shorts and a pair of cleats – is calmly awaiting the Olympic Games in Tokyo: ‘And now I suppose I can go to sleep for another four years’.

Among the sports equipment surrounding John Bull, we can see a pair of boxing gloves, parallel bars, steady rings (still rings), épées, foils, a fencing mask, a javelin, weights, a ball and, of course, a pair of sculls.

The first Olympic Games after the war, in 1948, were held in London – which was supposed to have been the host city for the 1944 Games – and the following Games were held in Helsinki. The 1964 Games went to Tokyo.

With the 2020 Games postponed until 23 July to 8 August 2021 – with the rowing events being held between 23 and 30 July at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay – let’s hope the world is pandemic free by then and that everything is safe. Right now, we are not out of the woods yet, despite what some people unwisely think.


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