Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021

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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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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”