The 1940 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XII Olympiad, were originally scheduled to be held from 21 September to 6 October 1940, in Tokyo, Japan. They were rescheduled for Helsinki, Finland, to be held from July 20 to August 4, 1940, but were ultimately cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.
The campaign to choose a city for 1940 began in 1932, with Barcelona, Rome, Helsinki, and Tokyo participating. Tokyo city officials suggested a campaign as a means of international diplomacy following Japan's alienation from the League of Nations due to the Mukden Incident. While both Tokyo officials and International Olympic Committee (IOC) representatives were behind the campaign, the national government, which was ever more interested in military matters, did not have any strong supporters for such a diplomatic gesture. In 1936, Tokyo was chosen in a surprise move, making it the first non-Western city to win an Olympic bid.
During the 1930 Far Eastern Games in Tokyo, Indian participants were spotted flying the flag of their independence movement rather than the flag of British India. This caused a complaint from the British Olympic Association. In 1934 Japan attempted to invite European colonies to the Far Eastern Games.
The main stadium was to be Meiji Jingu Stadium, later used at the 1964 Summer Olympics. The Olympic Village was to be built on the present sites of Kinuta Park or Todoroki Gorge. A schedule was drawn up, and guidelines were printed in four languages. Monthly magazines and posters were printed and distributed internationally. Construction began on some buildings, and arrangements were made with hotels, travel agents, and airlines for easy access.
When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out on July 7, 1937, Kono Ichiro, a member of the Diet (legislature), immediately requested that the Olympics be forfeited. The 1938 Far Eastern Games were also cancelled, but Japan's IOC delegates persisted under a belief that the war would soon be over. Amid the intensification of the war, the feasibility of both the Summer Olympics and the 1940 Winter Olympics grew increasingly questionable to other countries, who suggested a different site be chosen and spoke of the possibility of boycotting the Games were they to proceed in Japan.
In March 1938, the Japanese provided reassurances to the IOC at the organization's Cairo conference that Tokyo would still be able to serve as the host city. However, many Diet members in Japan had already openly questioned hosting the Olympics in wartime, and the military was unreasonably demanding that the organizers build the venues from wood because they needed metals for the war front. In July, a legislative session was held to decide the matters of the Summer and Winter Olympics and the planned 1940 World's Fair all at once. The World's Fair was only "postponed", under a belief that Japan would be able to wrap up the war, but the Olympics could not be moved and was canceled.
Kōichi Kido, who would later be instrumental in the surrender of Japan in 1945, announced the forfeiture on July 16, 1938. He closed his speech saying, "When peace reigns again in the Far East, we can then invite the Games to Tokyo and take that opportunity to prove to the people of the world the true Japanese spirit." This would come to pass in 1964.
Despite the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics, the Tokyo organizing committee released its budget for the Games. In a departure from standard practice, the budget included all capital outlays as well as direct organizing costs. The total budget was ¥20.1 million, one-third of which would have been paid by the Tokyo metropolitan government.
The IOC then awarded the Games to Helsinki, Finland, the city that had been the runner-up in the original bidding process. The Games were then scheduled to be staged from July 20 to August 4, 1940. The Olympic Games were suspended indefinitely following the outbreak of World War II and did not resume until the London Games of 1948.
With the Olympics cancelled, the major international athletics event of the year turned out to be the annual Finland-Sweden athletics international, held at the new Helsinki Olympic Stadium, exceptionally held as a triple international among Finland, Sweden and Germany. Gliding was due to be an Olympic sport in the 1940 Games after a demonstration at the Berlin Games in 1936. The sport has not been featured in any Games since, though the glider designed for it, the DFS Olympia Meise, was produced in large numbers after the war.
Meanwhile, Japan hosted the 1940 East Asian Games in Tokyo, with six participating nations.
Helsinki eventually held the 1952 Summer Olympics, while Tokyo held the 1964 Summer Olympics and will hold the 2020 Summer Olympics.
During August 1940, prisoners of war celebrated a "special Olympics" called International Prisoner-of-War Olympic Games. These were inaugurated and celebrated in stalag number XIII-A in Langwasser close to Nuremberg, Germany. An Olympic flag 29 by 46 cm in size was made of a Polish prisoner’s shirt and, drawn in crayon, it featured the Olympic rings and banners for Belgium, France, Great Britain, Norway, Poland and Netherlands. A feature film was produced by the director Andrzej Kotkowski in 1980 called Olimpiada '40 telling the story of these games and one of the prisoners of war, Teodor Niewiadomski.
Had the 1940 Summer Games been held, a never-before used method of bringing the Olympic Flame from Nazi Germany to Japan was proposed - by air delivery, in the purpose-built Messerschmitt Me 261 Adolfine long-range aircraft, which was designed to have a maximum range of some 9,500 km (5,900 mi) unrefueled.