By Kelly Cohen, ESPN
Never before had the Olympic Games been postponed or cancelled for something
other than war, but rarely has the world come to a grinding halt the way it
has over the novel coronavirus.
What felt like the last major sporting event untouched by the current strain
of the coronavirus, known formally as COVID-19, the 2020 Olympics served as
a glimmer of hope for the entire globe. But on Tuesday, Japan Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach agreed
to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by about one year.
The opening ceremony had been planned for July 24.
Despite the postponement, the Summer Olympics when they eventually happen
will still be called the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. The Olympic
flame will also remain stored and displayed in Fukushima.
“The IOC president and the Prime Minister of Japan have 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,” said a joint statement by the
Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and the IOC.
According to the statement, the World Health Organization had consulted with
both parties on Tuesday about what it called the “accelerating” pandemic.
There are now more than 390,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with
more than 17,000 deaths. Nearly every country has been impacted.
The decision comes less than 48 hours after the IOC said it was giving itself
four weeks to make a decision about the Olympics. As the coronavirus
continued to spread in recent weeks, Bach and members of Japan’s government
insisted the Games could go forward. Sunday’s statement was the first on-
the-record acknowledgement that a postponement could actually happen.
Pressure from nations and athletes alike mounted in recent days, and most
recently, Canada said it would not send representatives to the Olympics
without a delay. Australia later joined in that decision.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee sent a survey over the weekend to
more than 4,000 American Olympics hopefuls, and nearly seven in 10
respondents said they didn’t think the Games would be fair if held in July.
Germany and Poland had also called for the Games to be delayed.
“Despite the feeling of eventuality that so many of us have felt in the lead
up to this moment — my heart breaks for you, your fellow athletes around the
world, our friends at Tokyo 2020, the people of Japan, and all who are
impacted by this global pandemic and the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games
2020,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter to the athletes.
“We heard your concerns and we shared them. I thank you for being so
forthcoming with your perspectives, and also for allowing us the time to hear
from your teammates across all sports before making a recommendation to the
The Olympics had never been rescheduled for something other than war. In
1916, 1940 and 1944, the Games were cancelled because of the world wars.
In addition to the impact on the athletes whose lives have now been upended
by the decision, the financial impact will be staggering. The organizers of
Tokyo 2020 estimated the cost to be roughly $12.6 billion, while other
experts have put that figure closer to $25 billion. The delay will also
impact the billions spent by sponsors and broadcasters.
The IOC and Tokyo organizers said they hope the decision to postpone will
help the world heal from the pandemic.
“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,” the IOC statement said.
By Kelly Cohen, ESPN