The 2020 Tokyo Olympic games will not begin on July 24 this year as earlier planned and instead will be held “by the summer of 2021,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Tuesday. The delay comes after an increasing number of athletes and sporting federations called for the games to be delayed because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout history, never had Olympic Games been postponed or canceled for something other than war, but rarely has the world come to a standstill the way it has over COVID-19. The only three times in history Olympic games were canceled were during World War I and World War II in 1916, 1940, and 1944.
Abe, who had earlier said the Olympic games will go ahead as planned this summer, revealed the decision for the cancellation to journalists shortly after phone conversation with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. The prime minister’s office said via Twitter that “the two have agreed that the Tokyo Olympic Games would not be cancelled, and the games will be held in the summer of 2021.”
The IOC and Tokyo organizers released a joint statement saying the games won’t be held in 2020 in an attempt “to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
Despite the postponement, the Summer Olympics — when they eventually happen — will still be called the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. The Olympic flame will also remain stored and displayed in Fukushima.
“[T]he IOC president and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games 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,” said a joint statement by the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and the IOC.
After his telephone talks with IOC President Bach, PM Abe spoke to the press and explained that the two have agreed that the Tokyo Olympic Games would not be cancelled, and the games will be held by the summer of 2021. pic.twitter.com/ihe8To2g3R
— PM's Office of Japan (@JPN_PMO) March 24, 2020
According to the statement, the World Health Organization had consulted with both parties on Tuesday about what it called the “accelerating” pandemic. There are more than 400,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide as of Wednesday, with more than 20,000 deaths. Nearly every country has been impacted.
Pressure from nations and athletes alike mounted in recent days, and most recently, Canada said it would not send representatives to the Olympics without a delay. Australia later joined in that decision.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee sent a survey over the weekend to more than 4,000 American Olympics hopefuls, and nearly seven in 10 respondents said they didn’t think the Games would be fair if held in July. Germany and Poland had also called for the Games to be delayed.
“Despite the feeling of eventuality that so many of us have felt in the lead up to this moment — my heart breaks for you, your fellow athletes around the world, our friends at Tokyo 2020, the people of Japan, and all who are impacted by this global pandemic and the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games 2020,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter to the athletes.
“We heard your concerns and we shared them. I thank you for being so forthcoming with your perspectives, and also for allowing us the time to hear from your teammates across all sports before making a recommendation to the IOC.”
In addition to the impact on the athletes whose lives have now been upended by the decision, the financial impact will be staggering. The organizers of Tokyo 2020 estimated the cost to be roughly $12.6 billion, while other experts have put that figure closer to $25 billion. The delay will also impact the billions spent by sponsors and broadcasters.
The IOC and Tokyo organizers said they hope the decision to postpone will help the world heal from the pandemic.
“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,” the IOC statement said.