The IOC and Tokyo Olympic organizers agreed to move the Tokyo Games to 2021.
It will mark the first time in history that the start of an Olympics will be delayed to another year. The Opening Ceremony will not be held on July 24 as scheduled, but on an undetermined 2021 date, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the [World Health Organization] 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,” according to a joint statement from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee. “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.”
‘Very alarming figures from all over the world’
The announcement came two days after IOC President Thomas Bach said detailed discussions began to assess the coronavirus’ impact on the Olympics, including the scenario of postponement but not cancellation.
For Bach, seeing specific virus numbers in Africa, as part of the global spread, led into calling an emergency IOC Executive Board meeting on Sunday. He then came to a postponement agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in a Tuesday telephone call.
“We heard the World Health Organization speaking about an acceleration of the spread of the virus,” Bach said. “This was very alarming news on Sunday and Monday. And we also saw more travel restrictions all across the globe.”
One of the next steps: Determining when the Olympics will take place next year. The world’s largest sporting event includes 11,000 athletes from more than 200 nations. Bach called it “a huge jigsaw puzzle.”
“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore,” he wrote in a letter to athletes Sunday. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted.”
On Monday, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee joined the list of National Olympic Committees, including those from Canada and Australia, urging for postponement. USOPC leaders called it “the most promising path” after surveying more than 1,780 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. Sixty-eight percent said they did not think the Games could be fairly competed if continued as scheduled.
Olympic qualifying was already changing
Before the postponement announcement, the IOC was already working with international federations to make changes to Olympic qualifying, which has been impacted by global sporting events being canceled into April and May.
An increase in the number of overall athletes allowed for a sport will be considered on a case-by-case basis under exceptional circumstances, the IOC said last week, while adding that 57 percent of athletes had already qualified for the Olympics.
A total of 76 athletes had already qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
“With this decision, the work of planning a new version of the Tokyo Games is now officially underway,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter to U.S. athletes. “At the same time, we know from you, it’s important that the process of ensuring it is a fair and equitable Games be given equal attention. Working in partnership with athletes, [National Governing Bodies], International Federations, the IOC and IPC, we’ll (re)define standards for selection and anti-doping, and ensure the reimagined Games live up to the original promise of Tokyo 2020.”
The Japanese leg of the Olympic torch relay, originally scheduled to start Thursday, has been postponed to to-be-determined date. The Olympic Flame will remain in Japan until the revised Opening Ceremony date.
The modern Olympics, first held in Athens in 1896, have only ever been canceled for World War I (1916) and World War II (1940 and 1944).
During the Games, terror attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics postponed events for one day. The 1996 Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park bombing delayed some events to later that day, Olympic historian Bill Mallon said.
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