The International Olympic Committee has decided to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games because of the coronavirus pandemic, IOC member Dick Pound said on Monday.
Major sporting nations Australia and Canada had already withdrawn on Monday as organisers came under global pressure to postpone the event for the first time in its 124-year modern history.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in newspaper USA Today. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
Pound told Reuters that a one-year postponement looked like the best solution. This would mean the Games, which had been scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9, are likely to be held in the summer of 2021.
A postponement would be a blow for the host country, Japan, which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment, and huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.
But a groundswell of concern from athletes – already struggling to train as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools close around the world – appeared to be tipping the balance, along with the cancellation of other major sports events.
More than 337,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus worldwide and over 14,600 have died in a pandemic that the World Health Organisation said was accelerating.
The IOC and the Japanese government have both edged back from weeks of insistence that the Games would go ahead, announcing a month-long consultation.
‘STRESS AND UNCERTAINTY’
The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars, and major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984 respectively.
“The moment the IOC indicates that it is thinking about other solutions, it has already decided to delay the Games,” said French Olympic Committee president Denis Masseglia.
Canada and Australia both bluntly said they would not participate if the Games were not put back to 2021 and Britain may have followed suit.
“We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport,” Canada’s Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee said in a statement.
Paralympic athletes may be at particular risk from the epidemic as some have underlying health problems.
“Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty have been extremely challenging for them,” said Ian Chesterman, Australia’s Olympics Chef de Mission, or team manager.
A raft of other nations and sports bodies piled pressure on the IOC to make a quick decision.
“I understand where the athletes are coming from,” Greece’s Olympic head, former water polo player Spyros Capralos, told Reuters. “When you cannot train, you are stressed, you live in agony, which is disastrous. Postponement is inevitable.”
The head of health and safety at the London 2012 Games, Lawrence Waterman, said one of the reasons it was unsafe to hold the Games during a pandemic was that venues had to be tested with “real crowds to iron out problems”.
Reuters | TORONTO/TOKYO