The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will have to wait. Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed on Tuesday to push the games to 2021. The decision came after multiple conversations between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach. This marks only the fourth time in the history of the modern Olympics (which dates back to 1896), that the Games are being postponed. The three other times the games had to be pushed back were due to World War I and World War II.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” a joint statement from Bach and Prime Minister Abe read.
It was the hope that the Olympics could still be held as a distraction for what is going on in the world in terms of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, it was decided that the health of everyone involved was paramount.
“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” Bach and Abe added. “Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
On Monday, IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today that the games will likely be pushed to 2021, and that a plan will be put in place on how to proceed in the next four weeks. But despite Pound’s statement that “the Games are not going to start on July 24,” IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz came out afterwards and said that she had not heard anything about the games being postponed.
“If that is the case, then you know more than a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee,” she said, referencing Pound’s announcement. “It would be news to me.”
Following the comments from Pound and DeFrantz, the USOPC issued a formal statement on Monday night officially requesting that the IOC postpone the Olympic Games scheduled for July after the committee surveyed its 1,780 athletes. That came after both Canada and Australia said they would not be sending athletes to the 2020 Games in Tokyo. With the CDC placing restrictions on large gatherings and the virus continuing to spread worldwide, speculation over a possible delay or outright cancellation of the Games had begun picking up steam in recent weeks.
Organizers began planning for a potential delay in mid-March when the IOC released a statement saying they were looking into the scenario and conducting full assessments of the outbreak.
“The IOC will, in full coordination and partnership with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, start detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement,” read the IOC’s statement.
In addition to concerns about further spreading the bug, the coronavirus has caused major disruptions to athlete training regiments and preliminary qualifying events. The USA Track and Field and USA Swimming federations both called for the postponement of the Olympics recently.