With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continuing to spread globally, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee released a joint statement on March 24, formally announcing that the upcoming Summer Olympics will be postponed.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the [World Health Organization] 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 statement read.
The move comes just days after IOC president Thomas Bach wrote a letter to athletes explaining that officials would consider postponing the Games, though “a decision about a postponement today could not determine a new date for the Olympic Games” because of the uncertainty surrounding the virus, with some countries seeing an improvement in the numbers of new cases and others just beginning to see an uptick. On one thing, he was certain: “Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody. Therefore it is not on our agenda,” Bach wrote.
The deliberations were announced after mounting pressure from athletes around the globe. On March 21, both USA Swimming and USA Track & Field urged the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee to advocate for a postponement, citing concerns that the athletes would not be able to safely train for the Games in this environment. By March 23, both Canada and Australia had announced that they would not send athletes to the Tokyo Olympics if they were held in 2020.
The decision to postpone the Olympics signals a significant shift from earlier in the year, when former Canadian swimmer Dick Pound, the IOC’s longest-serving member, told the Associated Press that “you just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, ‘We’ll do it in October.'” Presumably, rescheduling for the Summer of 2021 would help alleviate some of these issues, though there are lots of other logistical challenges that the organisers will face.