The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo out of concern for the spread of the novel coronavirus, Abe said Tuesday.
IOC President Thomas Bach is “100%” in agreement with delaying the Olympics by up a year, and the games will be held in the summer of 2021 at the latest, Abe said.
Abe and Bach said in a joint statement that they agreed 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.”
They said the Olympic flame will remain in Japan for the foreseeable future because the games “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.”
The games will still be called the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, even though they’re set to take place in 2021.
The 2020 Olympic Games were scheduled to begin in July in Japan. In early March, officials from the World Health Organization met with medical officials representing various Olympic sports leagues to discuss worst-case scenarios as countries across the world encouraged social distancing to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Bach said in March the organization hadn’t discussed postponing or cancelling the games when it convened for two days of executive board meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland.
But public health officials around the world have continued to recommend against hosting large-scale events as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened exponentially and as authorities have imposed more and more travel and business restrictions to attempt to slow its spread. International travel has ground to a halt, and leaders of many countries and municipalities have shut down nonessential businesses and urged residents to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
By Sunday, Bach acknowledged the games would most likely not be held as scheduled, and “detailed discussions” for a possible postponement would be “finalized ... within the next four weeks.”
Later on Sunday, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee announced they would not be sending athletes to the Olympics in Japan if the event was not postponed due to health and safety concerns.
Several countries’ Olympic committees, including that of the United States, had also called for a postponement.
“The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know,” he said. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”
Japan’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, previously said a contract between the Japan Olympic Committee, the City of Tokyo and the IOC allowed the games to be postponed to a later date in 2020. The IOC’s “host city” contract also gave the organization the right to cancel the Olympics outright in the event of war or other forms of civil unrest, or if it believes “the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.”
The Olympic Games have only been cancelled three times since 1896, the beginning of their modern history. The 1916 Summer Olympic Games were cancelled due to the First World War, and the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were cancelled due to the Second World War.