Since 1896, the Olympics have only been cancelled three times; in addition to the cancellation of the 1916 Olympics on account of World War One, both the 1940 Olympics (slated to be held in Japan) and the 1944 Olympics (never planned) were cancelled on account of World War Two. Rather than highlighting some sort of 'failure' of the Olympics to promote peace, this emphasizes their universal nature and hence their intolerance of war.
To avoid taking a position on political affairs, especially wars, the IOC gives the host nation the responsibility of sending out invitations to all other nations. The invitations are unofficial, but usually a nation will not attend if it does not receive one. This provides the IOC with a method of avoiding unhealthy clashes at the games, such as would have occurred had the Germans attended the 1920 Olympics in Belgium. The 1920 Olympics saw the first implementation of this policy.
World War 1
The sixth Olympiad was to be held in Berlin in 1916, but did not ever take place due to World War One. The Great War, as it was called, was supposed to take only several months. The Germans, therefore, did not see any need to withdraw from the Games, ensuring that the choice of a new host in their place would be perceived as a snub to them.
War, and the international strife that goes along with it, is perhaps the antithesis of the Olympic Games. The Games have traditionally promoted peace and tolerance, and that coupled with their international and cosmopolitan nature makes their message one that is quickly affronted by a war between two or more participating parties. It is in fact almost impossible to hold the Games in such a situation, since the message of war can override the benevolence of participants from the involved nations. This could not have been more clear now; the majority of the Olympic athletes were from an involved nation, and many prominent members of the IOC were also politically motivated, ensuring significant opposition to Germany?s role. Fortunately, Coubertin remained neutral, endorsing neither side as the ?moral? side, as he knew was appropriate for an international organization devoted largely to peaceful coexistence.
Rifts in the IOC became apparent as Britain?s Thomas A. Cook demanded a renege on the endorsement of Berlin, and America?s Sullivan suggested that the Games be held in America. Coubertin, however, remained undeterred, recognizing the importance of the IOC?s neutrality and the amount of damage such a move could make (The Germans, after all, felt that they were on the right side!). He therefore maintained that, as in the ancient Games, an Olympiad could be skipped, but ?its number remains.? In effect, if the Great War were to last into 1916, the Berlin Games would simply not be held, and the IOC would begin planning the 1920 Games. Given the fact that the Germans remain integral participants in the Olympics to this day, Coubertin?s judgement was correct.
Any sort of preparations for Berlin being impossible, Coubertin?s job became centered around choosing an appropriate, advantageous, spot for the 1920 games. Budapest, Antwerp, Lyons, Atlanta, Cleavland, Philadelphia, and even Havana (Cuba) were considered as possible spots. In the end, Coubertin made a particularly fitting move in choosing Antwerp, Belgium for the 1920 games. Although Belgium had been on the Allies? side during the war, it had suffered greatly, being positioned right on the Western Front between France and Germany. In making this choice, Coubertin both honored Belgium and aided in its recovery, helping solidify the IOC as an organization primarily concerned with peace and human betterment.