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When World Events Disrupted the Olympics

March 24, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

Only world wars have led to cancellation of the Olympics, but other events, including politics, terrorism—and now pandemics—have encroached upon the games.

Since the opening of the first modern , point to numerous times when Olympic officials turned a blind eye to violent human rights violations in order to ensure that the games went on.

Games Continued in Mexico City Despite Massacre

Soldiers are seen in the streets near the Olympic stadium, before the opening ceremony of the Mexico Olympic Games, on October 12, 1968, 10 days after the Mexican army opened fire on youth demonstrators during protest against police actions, causing between 200 and 300 deaths known as the Tlatelolco Massacre.

Mexico City is a particularly damning example. Ten days before the 1968 summer games were set to open in Mexico City, government forces opened fire on crowds of unarmed student protestors, killing hundreds if not thousands in what became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre.

“The main theme of the Mexico City games was peace with icons of the dove of peace all over the city,” says Goldblatt. “The Mexican government slaughters hundreds of students and then unleashes a reign of terror and torture and disappearance, all while the games are going on, but the IOC doesn’t blink an eye.”

Likewise, the IOC was initially hesitant to ban Apartheid-era South Africa from the 1960 Olympics, but eventually bowed to the pressure of African nations who said they would boycott the games if whites-only South African teams were allowed to play. South Africa was eventually barred from the Olympics from 1960 until 1992, after the fall of Apartheid.

Terrorism and the Olympic Games

This Palestinian was one of a group that took 12 Israeli athletes hostage during the Munich Olympics of 1972.

Even one of the darkest chapters of Olympic history didn’t lead to a cancellation of the games. In 1972, an armed band of Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli compound at the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, killing two Israeli athletes and holding another nine hostage. In the ensuing standoff, all nine remaining Israeli athletes were murdered. Instead of calling off the Munich games, Olympic officials continued the competition after a two-day suspension.

The 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Georgia, were also allowed to go on after a homemade bomb exploded during a free concert in Centennial Olympic Park. Two people died in …read more