The Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed and will be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021.
The news broke earlier this afternoon with the release of a joint statement from the International Olympic Committee and the Local Organising Committee in Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and IOC President Thomas Back spoke by telephone this morning along with other directors and elected officials and the decision was made to postpone.
The full text of the statement reads:
“The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, and the Prime Minister of Japan Abe Shinzo, held a conference call this morning to discuss the constantly changing environment with regard to Covid-19 and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
“They were joined by Mori Yoshiro, the President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee; the Olympic Minister, Hashimoto Seiko; the Governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko; the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission, John Coates; IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper; and the IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, Christophe Dubi.”
“President Bach and Prime Minister Abe expressed their shared concern about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and what it is doing to people’s lives and the significant impact it is having on global athletes’ preparations for the Games.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
It is likely that the reference to no later than Summer 2021 takes into consideration the schedule of other sporting events that might prompt timing earlier than would have been the case were the Games simply pushed back by 12 months in the same way as UEFA have done with the Euro 2020 Finals.
The World Athletics Championships are scheduled to take place in the United States between 6th and 15th August next year and while indications are that these can be shifted to accommodate the Olympics, it is likely that further discussion will need to take place around this.
The presence of Golf and Tennis and the accommodation within their schedules is also likely to have to be factored in and it will take some time to iron out the way in which Tokyo itself will manage the rescheduling.
Discussions will also be needed with broadcasters who, given the amounts of money involved, will want to have a clear run in sporting terms for the Games in what is likely to be a packed summer schedule given the likely loss of so much from this year.
For now though athletes can stand down from their preparations for the Games. There will be some for whom the opportunity will now be gone but others that will shine as a result of the extra twelve months.
It is the right thing to do and clears the way now for sport to plan for what will be an epic 2021.
There is a very good piece written by Sean Ingle in The Guardian newspaper where he outlines the moves behind the scenes by the IOC to bring the Japanese organisers to the spot where they could make the decision.
Bach has been criticised by some for not acting quickly enough and members of the Athlete community have been quick to claim that the change came about because of their pressure. Both of these may be the case in part but Ingle probably gets closer to the reality of the international politics behind it all.
“But it appears it was actually the Japanese who were the most reluctant to move the Games – while Bach was actively if quietly pushing for a postponement for some time. The problem was that the IOC could not move unless it got the Tokyo organisers on board. And that, to put it mildly, was not straightforward.”
“The greatest difficulty was that the Japanese could not be seen to lose face. Another was that organisers were keen on holding the Games in October, while Bach felt it had to be 2021 because there was no guarantee that the Covid-19 virus would be under control by the autumn. A third problem was that Tokyo wanted a four-week deadline to work through the issues – something the IOC reluctantly granted on Sunday.”
“But that did not stop Bach stealthily putting the wheels in motion to bring the deadline forward. It was not a coincidence that the Australian Olympic Committee was one of the first to call for the Games to be moved to 2021. The AOC’s president, John Coates, is a close friend of Bach – and chair of the IOC’s coordination commission for Tokyo. Bach knew he needed more negotiating cards. This was one of his strongest.”
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