TORONTO/TOKYO: 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, as a window slowly began to open that would allow the showcase to be staged next year.
Major sporting nations Australia and Canada withdrew on Monday as organisers came under global pressure to postpone the event for the first time in its 124-year modern history.
Pound told Reuters that a one-year postponement looked like the best solution. This would mean the Games, scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9, are likely to be held in the summer of 2021.
“That’s my conclusion (there will be a postponement),” Pound said in a telephone interview, after Sunday’s IOC statement saying it was stepping up its “scenario planning” for the Tokyo 2020 Games – including a possible postponement.
“From reading IOC-speak in the communique, if you are going to cancel you simply cancel because there are no future plans,” added Pound.
“But if you are going to carry on with the original objective (to stage the Games) there is no reason to issue a statement because you have already done that over the past several weeks.”
Japan and the IOC have said calling off the Games entirely is not an option. But finding a new date could be complicated as the summer 2021 calendar is already crowded, while 2022 will see the soccer World Cup and the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Pound said a large number of stakeholders from the organising committee, to athletes to broadcasters and sporting federations would all need to be consulted before a plan could be finalised but there were early signs of a willingness to accommodate a 2021 Summer Games.
World Athletics said on Monday they would be willing to move their 2021 world championships scheduled for Aug. 6-15 in Eugene, Oregon to clear a path for a 2021 Olympics.
“World Athletics has already been in discussion with the Oregon 21 Organising Committee regarding the possibility the Olympic Games may move to next year and they in turn have held discussions with their key stakeholders and have reassured us they will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates should that prove necessary,” athletics’ global governing body said in a statement.
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.
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.
A raft of other nations and sports bodies piled pressure on the IOC to make a quick decision.
Athletes were sad but broadly supported a delay.