In an unprecedented and unavoidable move, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese government agreed to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics “to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It will mark the first time in history that the start of an Olympics will be delayed to another year. The Opening Ceremony will not be held on July 24 as scheduled, but on an undetermined 2021 date.
“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,” according to a joint statement from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.
“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. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
The announcement came two days after IOC President Thomas Bach said detailed discussions began to assess the coronavirus’ impact on the Olympics, including the scenario of postponement but not cancellation.
Bach said Sunday there are “many, many challenges” in planning different Olympic scenarios.
“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore,” he wrote in a letter to athletes. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted.”
On Monday, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee joined the list of National Olympic Committees, including those from Canada and Australia, urging for postponement. USOPC leaders called it “the most promising path” after surveying more than 1,780 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. Sixty-eight percent said they did not think the Games could have fairly competed if continued as scheduled.
Before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponement announcement, the IOC was already working with international federations to make changes to Olympic qualifying, which has been impacted by global sporting events being canceled into April and May.