Olympics: Tokyo 2020 postponed until 2021 over coronavirus outbreak

Jack de Menezes
The Independent

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been postponed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A decision was taken by the International Olympic Committee in agreement with the Japanese Government and Tokyo 2020 organising committee to delay this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games until 2021 due to the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19, which has hampered athletes in their preparations and seen a number of competing nations placed in lockdown.

On Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a conference call with IOC president Thomas Bach and Organising Committee president Yoshiro Mori, where it was confirmed that the Japanese government were preparing to postpone their second Olympic Games by a year in the hope that a full Olympics can go ahead next year.

Issuing a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Abe said: "I proposed to Mr Bach that we postpone the Games for a year. He 100 per cent agrees with me.”

An IOC executive board meeting held on Tuesday afternoon ratified the move to make the postponement official.

A joint-statement from the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organising committee confirmed: “In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the World Health Organisation 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.”

The statement added: “In a very friendly and constructive meeting, the two leaders praised the work of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee and noted the great progress being made in Japan to fight against Covid-19.

“The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating. Yesterday, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the Covid-19 pandemic is ‘accelerating’. There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.

The virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, quickly spread to Japan before reaching Europe and causing Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom to take extreme measures in an effort to contain the spread.

But with a number of Olympic members withdrawing their athletes from this summer’s Games - both Australia and Canada did so on Monday before the United States and Team GB indicated a desire to follow suit - Prime Minister Abe moved to ask the IOC to take action, with Bach in complete agreement to postpone the Olympics for the first time during peacetime.

The agreement is a large U-turn from Bach, who has insisted for weeks that Tokyo 2020 will go ahead as planned despite the growing fears around the world that the escalating situation surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak left the Games impossible to stage.

Speaking on Monday, Bach stressed the difficulty in moving the Games to a new date and ruled out a complete cancellation. "The Olympic Games cannot be moved like a football game next Saturday," he told Germany's SWR broadcaster.

"It is a complex undertaking and you can only act responsibly when you have a clear decision-making foundation.

"A cancellation of the Games would be the least fair solution. A cancellation would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes of 206 Olympic committees."

But Prime Minister Abe’s plea on Tuesday proved enough to change his stance on the matter, with the IOC now ready to ratify a new schedule in 2021 - although the Games are to remain Tokyo 2020 in name due to copyright and merchandising reasons.

The IOC added: “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. 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.”

Japan was due to first hold the Games in 1940 but had to cancel the Olympics due to the Second World War, with Tokyo not becoming a host city until 1964 as a result. Only three Olympics have been cancelled in history, with the 1916 Games in Berlin and both Tokyo 1940 and London 1944 abandoned due to war.

The move immediately received a positive response from International Olympic Committee member Hayley Wickenheiser, with the four-time Olympic ice hockey medallist writing on Twitter: “Very happy to hear @Tokyo2020 moved to 2021. Best case scenario given the circumstances. The message athletes deserved to hear. To all the athletes: take a breath, regroup, take care of yourself and your families. Your time will come.”

British Paralympic discus thrower Dan Greaves tweeted: "Absolutely the right decision to postpone both the Olympics & Paralympics by a year. Health comes first & with that, athletes can now take care of theres to make sure they are able to make the hard work count!!"

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