The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, London Marathon, Glastonbury, Cannes Film Festival … these are just a few of the major events to be wiped off the spring and early-summer calendar this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The decision to disappoint thousands or even millions of people with the cancellation or postponement of an event is never taken lightly, and this prompted us to check out some historic cancelled events and find out what it was that forced their closure.
Extreme weather or natural disaster
On 26 April this year, the streets of London should have been teeming with runners and onlookers enjoying the spectacle of the London Marathon. It is now postponed for the first time in its 40-year history, due to the Coronavirus. Across the Atlantic eight years ago, the largest marathon in the world was postponed – as a result of extreme weather. This was in 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when people felt it was not fair to hold the New York Marathon while thousands of residents were still without electricity, public transport or other basic needs.
Severe weather in the form of heavy rain, combined with concerns about the rough surface of the newly repaved track, caused the closure of the British motorcycle Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2018.
In San Francisco it was nothing less than an earthquake which brought the World Series of 1989 to a halt. Thousands of people were watching the baseball in the Candlestick Park stadium when the quake hit. The stadium withstood the shaking but the Loma Prieta earthquake (magnitude 6.9) caused 63 deaths and more than $6 billion worth of damage in the San Francisco area.
After the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001, many sporting fixtures were cancelled while the American people came to terms with the shock and devastation of the terrible events. Two high-profile matches in the PGA Golf Tour were among those cancelled.
The world’s oldest sports car race in endurance racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, was due to take place this June, but has been postponed until September. Unlike most races where the winner is the first to complete a set distance, the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the car that covers the greatest distance in 24 hours. Following the outbreak of the Second World War the race was closed for ten years but in all its long history it has only been cancelled on one other occasion – in 1936 it was cancelled due to general strikes in France.
It was a dispute of a different nature which led to the cancellation of the World Chess Championship in 1975. Champion Bobby Fisher refused to play the usual ‘Best of 24 games’ and because the argument over the match format could not be resolved, the championship was called off.
Disease or illness
The Isle of Man TT races were cancelled in 2001 due to foot and mouth disease which was rife on the British mainland but had not spread to the island. The fear was that the influx of 40,000 motorcycle fans would bring the disease to the island, especially as they would be watching the races from farmland around the 37-mile course. The difficulty of disinfecting motorcycle tyres and so many people was too great and the decision was made to cancel the races.
Concerts, especially those which depend on one key performer, have always been vulnerable to cancellation for reasons of illness or even death. However, it was a fluke accident which forced guitarist and singer-songwriter Neil Young to disappoint his fans. Shortly before the start of his European tour in 1997, he sliced the tip of his index finger while he was cutting a ham sandwich. He had to pull out of the entire five-week tour while the finger healed.
Since 1896, in all the years of the modern Olympics, the Summer Games have only been cancelled three times – each time because of war. The outbreak of the First World War prevented the Berlin Games from taking place in 1914 and during the Second World War both the 1940 and 1944 Games in Tokyo and London were cancelled. London hosted an austere post-war Summer Olympics in 1948. Many other events were abandoned during the Second World War.
… and now, COVID-19
War, terrorism, extreme weather, natural disasters, disputes and even fluke accidents have all caused cancellations of long-standing major events. In 2020 we add the Coronavirus pandemic to the list of causes. We are therefore making history in the calendar of events.
While many of us stay at home, doing our bit to reduce the spread, it may be that some future masterpieces are being created. London theatres, including the Globe, were frequently closed by the authorities due to plague 1603-1613, and Shakespeare’s King Lear may well have been written in 1606 when there was a significant outbreak of the disease.
Incidentally, a slightly less monumental cancellation took place in the summer of 2010 when the Kings of Leon called off a gig a few songs in, after the bass player was repeatedly hit by pigeon droppings…