The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 have been postponed, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee announced on Tuesday (24 March).
Originally scheduled to be held from 24 July-9 August 2020, the Games have been moved to next year due to the developing global situation in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they will retain the Tokyo 2020 name.
The announcement came 122 days before the planned Opening Ceremony at the newly-built National Stadium in the Japanese capital.
A joint IOC-Tokyo Organising Committee statement said that following information provided by the World Health Organisation, "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 added:
"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."
While the Olympic Games have previously been cancelled during wartime, this is the first postponement of a Games.
President Bach and PM Abe call
Speaking outside his official residence, Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo said: "Together with Tokyo 2020 President Mori Yoshiro and Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko, we held a conference call with IOC President Thomas Bach.
"I proposed postponing the Games for around a year. President Bach said he agreed 100 per cent.
"Given the situation of the pandemic we agreed it would be difficult to hold the Games inside (this) year which is why we decided to postpone for around a year."
Speaking to reporters on a teleconference call afterwards, IOC President Bach said he had not discussed details of the new Games timeframe with the prime minister.
"The Olympic Games are maybe the most complex event on this planet to get everything together. These cannot be done there in just a phone call between the two of us. We have to rely on the work of the Coordination Commission in cooperation with the International Federations, and in particular, but with many other partners. This is a really big, big challenge."
He added that the IOC had adapted to the changing situation surrounding the current worldwide health situation.
"At the very beginning, the question was whether Japan could offer safe conditions for welcoming the athletes of the world to work to Japan. And there we had a growing confidence in the development in Japan with all the measures being taken, we had the confidence that in four and a half months these safe conditions in Japan could be offered.
"But then we had this a big wave coming from the rest of the world and this very, very worrying development in particular in the last two days."
Bach also sent his "solidarity and sympathy" to Italy and Spain, the two European nations most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
"The concern and the commitment to offer the IOC is to organise Olympic Games in an environment and in a way which safeguards the health of all the people involved of every participant, in whatever capacity, and these commitments will not change.
"This principle will guide us in all the decisions we are taking and has guided us in all the decisions that we have been taking in the recent past."
Scenarios and challenges
The marathon, which had been moved to Sapporo due to the summer heat in Tokyo, is slated to remain in Sapporo, according to Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee president Mori.
"The basic framework of the Games will not change - it should not change. We do not believe it will happen," Mori said when asked about the possibility.
All remaining Ready Steady Tokyo test events this year will be cancelled, said Tokyo 2020 CEO Muto Toshiro.
"There is no way for anyone to predict when the coronavirus pandemic will end. Not even the experts," Muto said when asked about alternative scenarios.
"But at the root of our decision is the consensus that this will not be over in three, four months. Postponing it for three months or so to the fall would not have been a solution. When you take into account that the torch relay starts four months before the Games, holding it at a later date in the year was not a realistic option.
"2022 is far away from 2020 and could have created a different set of problems like what you do with the athletes who have already qualified, et cetera. While it will not be easy, a one-year postponement makes sense from several perspectives.
"President Mori asked me if the pandemic would be over in a year. I couldn’t guarantee that but if it’s not then we will have a massive global problem on our hands that will be much bigger than hosting the Games in Japan. People’s lives will have been destroyed."
The postponement to 2021 also brings about new challenges for organisers, such as the availability of venues.
"In principle, we have to ask so that we can use the venues next year," Muto said.
"It might not be possible to secure them all but this is an important issue that we need to give it much thought. We will - we must - work through it somehow."
Existing ticket-holders and volunteers who have already been recruited "will be given every consideration available", Muto said. "What we do with the tickets that have already been sold and the volunteers who have been chosen are crucial issues we need to discuss. We obviously do not have the answer yet."
Another issue will be the need of the 33 Olympic sports to adapt their calendars for 2021, a problem addressed by IOC President Bach.
"This takes some time. The IOC Coordination Commission has already started the work. We are confident that they will come up with a good result to make these Games the success we all want it to be.
"And I'm sure that also the international federations have, together with their athletes, the highest interest to be able to compete in Olympic Games."
Human lives take precedence
Muto also paid tribute to the athletes.
"The situation is disappointing for the athletes who worked hard so hard for this year," he said. "I feel terrible for them. But I’m convinced if they can overcome this, they will be even better as athletes. I will be behind them, absolutely."
Tokyo 2020 president Mori said: "We agreed that the safety, security of the athletes and spectators are paramount.
"From this point, and given the current situation around the world which is steadily worsening, we also agreed that it has become impossible to organise the Games this July as originally scheduled - or at any other time this year, leaving us no choice but to postpone.
"The IOC, Tokyo 2020, the Japanese and Tokyo metropolitan governments as well as other relevant institutions have agreed to organise the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games by the summer of 2021 at the latest."
He added that the Olympic Torch Relay would be suspended, but the Olympic flame will remain in Fukushima, on the suggestion of the prime minister.
Paralympics also postponed
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons said the decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics "is absolutely the right thing to do."
He said: "The health and well-being of human life must always be our number one priority and staging a sport event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible.
“Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is. It is essential therefore that all steps are taken to try and limit the spread of this disease.
"By taking this decision now, everyone involved in the Paralympic Movement, including all Para athletes, can fully focus on their own health and well-being and staying safe during this unprecedented and difficult time.
“When the Paralympic Games do happen in Tokyo next year, they will be a spectacular global celebration of humanity coming together again as one."