The Tokyo Olympics will be postponed for a year until 2021 because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach were among those who joined a conference call today (Tuesday, 24 March) to make the decision. Afterwards Mr Abe’s official twitter account reported that he spoke to the press and explained that the two “have agreed that the Tokyo Olympics Games would not be cancelled, and the Games will be held in the summer of 2021”. The delay will also apply to the Paralympics, due to be held from 26 August to 6 September.
“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,” said a statement from the IOC.
“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.”
Mr Bach and Mr Abe concluded that the Games “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 ramifications of a delay to the Olympics, which were due to be held from 24 July to 9 August, are huge, with the IOC explaining in a statement on Sunday that some venues may not be available at a later date, millions of booked hotel nights are affected and the international calendars of at least 33 sports will have to be adapted.
The FEI, the international governing body for horse sport, will now have multiple decisions to make, in consultation with the IOC and other stakeholders, including how qualifications and minimum eligibility requirements will work for the rearranged Games and whether other championships such as the European Championships which were scheduled for 2021 will still happen.
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Today’s announcement represents a faster move than expected as the IOC only properly acknowledged that the Games might have to change date for the first time on Sunday and said at that time that a decision would be made within the next four weeks. One week ago (17 March), the IOC said that there was “no need for any drastic decisions at this stage”.
However, pressure was growing for a decision, with Canada the first country to announce that it would not send athletes to a Games in 2021. Yesterday afternoon, IOC committee member Dick Pound told website USA Today that the Games would be postponed.
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