The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were postponed until 2021 on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation that the games could not go ahead as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The International Olympic Committee made the decision after speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers.
The IOC said the games will be held “not later than summer 2021” but they will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“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 IOC said in a statement.
“Utter relief. Excitement. Uncertainty. We’re in unprecedented times,” Canadian wrestler Erica Wiebe told CBC Sports. On March 14, she clinched her second Olympic at the Pan American qualifying event in Ottawa. “We’ll be more ready than ever in 2021 and wearing the Maple Leaf with more pride than I thought was possible.”
Before the official announcement, Abe said Bach had agreed with his proposal for a one-year postponement.
Pressure mounted to postpone
“President Bach said he will agree ‘100%,’ and we agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest,” Abe said, saying holding the games next year would be “proof of a victory by human beings against the coronavirus infections.”
On Sunday, Bach said a decision on postponing the games would be made in the next four weeks. But pressure grew as national federations, sports governing bodies and athletes spoke out against having the opening ceremony as planned on July 24.
The decision came only a few hours after local organizers said the torch relay would start as planned on Thursday. It was expected to start in northeastern Fukushima prefecture, but with no torch, no torchbearers and no public. Those plans also changed.
“For the time being, the flame will be stored and displayed in Fukushima,” organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said.
The Olympics have never before been postponed, and have only ever previously been cancelled in wartime.
The IOC and Tokyo organizers said they hope the decision to postpone will help the world heal from the pandemic.
Track and field, aquatics worlds were slated for 2021
Canadian hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC’s Athletes Commission, had harsh words for the IOC a week ago, saying in a statement posted on Twitter that the current crisis is bigger than any Olympics.
At time, the IOC continued to insist the Games would begin in four months on July 24.
The six-time Olympian was thrilled with Tuesday’s announcement.
Very happy to hear <a href=”https://twitter.com/Tokyo2020?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Tokyo2020</a> 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. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/tokyo2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#tokyo2021</a>
Postponing the Games for a year is “the only decision” the IOC could make, according to Scott Russell of CBC Sports.
“It is obviously going to require some negotiation going forward,” he told CBC News Network. “The world (track and field) championships were to be held in the summer of 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. The world aquatics championships were to be held in Fukuoka, Japan in the summer of 2021, but all of those international sports organizations have obviously come together and realized that in order to protect the Olympic Games, they’ve gotta forego those championships and allow the world to host a safe Olympics in the summer of 2021.”
Canada’s Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, told News Network the postponement will create some complications but “it’s better than exposing athletes to a dangerous situation.”
Fate of athletes who qualified for 2020 Games?
In February, Pound received flak from the Tokyo organizing committee and Japanese government when he stated an Olympic decision could be made as late as two months out from the start of the Games.
“That the end of May is the time-limit, we have never thought of this or heard of such a comment,” Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said in response to Pound. “Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled (on July 24).”
Pound, who has been a member of the IOC since 1978 and served two terms as vice-president, wondered about those athletes who had already qualified for an Olympics in 2020.
“Someone who qualified in 2020 might get surpassed by an up-and-comer by 2021,” he said. “That’s another negotiation point.”