40 other times sports have been temporarily interrupted
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of global sports leagues and events have been interrupted or cancelled. While the casual gambler can still find dozens of sports wagers in unexpected corners, the world is without endless live action. The UEFA Champions League, MLB regular season, NHL playoffs, and an April Masters are just a few notable examples of the hobbies and escapes from the chaos that the novel coronavirus nullified. On a promising note, however, the NBA will return in July after abruptly stopping play on March 11. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the league’s Board of Governors voted to approve a 22-team resumption format—mini eight-game schedules followed by postseason—in Orlando from July 31–Oct. 12.
Though 2020 is an unprecedented time, it is hardly the only one in which sports have been interrupted by major events. Stacker has accordingly decided to break down 40 other times in history when sports have stopped, whether the hiatus lasted a day, extended a few months, or cancelled entire seasons or biannual international contests. To compile this list, we consulted several timelines and sports media outlets, contextualizing these moments with the most pertinent news items.
Most recently in January, prior to the coronavirus sports shutdown, Kobe and Gigi Bryant suddenly died in a helicopter accident, which postponed a Lakers–Clippers game. Only four years prior, Miami baseball cancelled a home game to mourn their young star pitcher who died in a boating accident. Since 2000, natural disasters have moved NFL home games to new cities, relocated an NBA team to a different state for two seasons, and cancelled marathons.
Since the 1970s, owners and players in America’s major professional leagues have battled over rights and monetary power, leading to infamous strikes. In the preceding decade, two world leaders’ assassinations less than five years apart forced unique reactions and stoppages. And over a century ago, World War I affected four years of athletics, and a flu pandemic halted leagues and championships.
Throughout history—even after tragedies, violent attacks, and massacres have made them secondary—sports always resume, and they remain arguably our best means to establish a new normal. See all the examples of when, why, and where sports were interrupted.
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1916: WWI cancels Berlin Summer Olympics
World War I, which started in 1914, eventually led to the cancellation of the 1916 Berlin Summer Olympics. A newly constructed and dedicated 30,000-spectator stadium was not enough to counteract the number of countries involved in the conflict and the unforeseen length of the war.
1918–19: WWI cuts short, postpones MLB seasons
WWI concluded in November 1918, so that year’s Major League Baseball season ended one month early with around 20 fewer games. The World Series finished Sept. 11 when the Red Sox beat the Cubs. The 1919 season consequently began later and included 10–15 fewer games.
1919: Spanish flu stops Stanley Cup Final
In March 1919, the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans were knotted at two games apiece (with one tie) in a best-of-five Stanley Cup Final. The Spanish flu pandemic stopped play just hours before the decisive final game, as the league called off the series after players from both teams became ill. This marks the lone year on the Cup without an inscribed champion; instead, “Series not completed” remains.
1923: Harding death, funeral cancel MLB games
President Warren G. Harding’s surprising death on Aug. 2, 1923 (from a heart attack at 57) froze all MLB action for the day. His funeral eight days later postponed all games as well.
1940: WWII eliminates Winter, Summer Olympics
World War II (1939–45), which saw global populations engaged in the deadliest conflict of all time, inevitably affected athletics. The original dual winter and summer host, Japan, declared war on China, thereby relinquishing its rights to hold the 1940 Games. After Hitler invaded Poland (1939), the rebooked Finland Winter Games and Germany Summer Games were called off.
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1942–1946: WWII wipes out 2 World Cups
Not only did WWII cause the cancellation of back-to-back FIFA World Cups during the same period, but host countries hadn’t even been selected. Despite peacetime by 1946, FIFA lacked the personnel and resources to stage the international competition.
1943–45: Wartime cancels 3 straight Masters
In April 1942, Byron Nelson defeated Ben Hogan in a Masters playoff, the final time a green jacket was awarded at Augusta until April 1946 (WWII ended September 1945).
1943: NFL adjusts to war
The National Football League made a series of unique adjustments to maintain the 1943 wartime season despite gutted rosters due to service. The Cleveland Rams ceased operations for the year, missing not only players but even their owner, who’d been drafted into the war. In addition, the season shrank to 10 games, and, iconically, the Steelers and Eagles formed the “Steagles” with combined limited personnel (they went just 5–4–1 and missed the playoffs).
1944: IOC scraps Winter, Summer Olympics again
Still a full year before WWII’s conclusion, the 1944 Italy Winter Games and London Summer Games never commenced. Switzerland ultimately held the Winter Olympics four years later, while London remained the host site for the summer.
1944: MLB reschedules all games on D-Day
Baseball was put on hold on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy. The largest invasion by sea in world history included troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, and New Zealand.
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