Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC President Thomas Bach have agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The games have now been rescheduled for 2021, with opening ceremony taking places on July 23 and closing ceremony happening Aug. 8.
Initially the IOC had been firm on wanting to wait until late April before deciding whether the games should be cancelled, postponed or moved. The speed with which the pandemic has escalated will force the committee to act more quickly. Veteran IOC member Dick Pound said on Monday that the decision has been reached, and the games will not take place as scheduled.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in a phone interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
On Monday morning reports indicated that Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe told members of parliament: “If I’m asked whether we can hold the Olympics at this point in time, I would have to say that the world is not in such a condition.” The Japanese government did not take an official stance, though several nations moved quickly to make their intentions known.
On Sunday night, Canada announced it would not send athletes to the 2020 games due to the coronavirus pandemic. Australia also reportedly told athletes something similar, indicating the games will likely be delayed and eventually take place in the summer of 2021.
It’s impossible to imagine a large-scale, international sporting event would be possible, or appropriate, considering the climate worldwide. It wasn’t long ago that people speculated the games could be moved, wistfully suggesting that the United States has the infrastructure in place to step in and host if needed. The pandemic has progressed so swiftly in the U.S. over the last month that the suggestion seems ludicrous now.
Postponing the games involves much more than simply telling athletes to wait, which is likely why the IOC took its time. Athletes have been preparing for years to be ready to compete in the summer of 2020, with potential postponement throwing off their training regimen. In addition, there are issues with broadcasting rights, volunteer availability and the numerous disruptions to daily working life that come with the Olympics, and may be difficult to ameliorate following widespread shutdown of services and businesses due to the coronavirus.
In addition, it’s unclear how the IOC will adapt to a wildly changing Olympic schedule. For decades the games have operated under a two-year, four-year schedule which sees the summer and winter Olympic games trading off. It’s not known whether a temporary change to the 2020 games would have a knock-on effect that could permanently alter the schedule of the games.
There is no firm date for when the games will be held at this time, should they ultimately be postponed as Pound claims.