Tokyo 2020: Covid-19 forces Olympics and Paralympics to postpone to 2021

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
(Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It is just two days since the executive board of the International Olympic Committee [IOC] gave itself a deadline of four weeks for ‘scenario planning’ for the 2020 Olympics during the fast-evolving coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the statement said that “These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games,” adding that cancellation was “not on the agenda”.

But today, the long-expected decision to postpone both the Olympic and Paralympic Games was finally taken. In a joint statement, the organisers of Tokyo 2020 and the IOC said:

“The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating.

“On Monday, the director general of the World Health Organization [WHO], Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘accelerating’. There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.

In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO 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 tennis event was among the first in the Olympic schedule, beginning at the Ariake Tennis Park on the day after the opening ceremony, and running for nine days until Sunday 2 August.

Now it joins a swathe of cancellations and postponements already announced in the tennis calendar, with the super-size Indian Wells and Miami events and the entire clay season abandoned, and the French Open rescheduled for September, just days after the expected conclusion of the US Open.

Whether the grass season will be able to go ahead also remains uncertain, with its crowning glory, the Wimbledon Championships, due to begin on the last Monday of June. Thus far—a week ago—the All England Club has said:

“At this time, we continue to plan for The Championships and the grass court season, and we intend to maintain the Estate with a limited team onsite, with the rest of our business operations taking place through remote working.”

Chief Executive Richard Lewis went on:

“While we continue to plan for The Championships at this time, it remains a continuously evolving situation and we will act responsibly, in the best interests of wider society. We thank all of our Members, staff, players, partners, contractors and the public for their patience and trust as we continue to navigate this unprecedented global challenge.”

And it is not just tennis: sport across the globe has come to a halt, including Euro 2020, Masters golf, Formula 1 Grand Prix racing, rugby union’s six nations, and more are certain to follow in the coming months. And while some organisers continue to talk of postponement, there is in reality very little room for rescheduling events on this scale—about which Tokyo will now be all too painfully aware.

But while the IOC had left open the option of a short delay for this year’s Olympics, national bodies and their athletes began to vote with their feet.

Canada and Australia formally withdrew, and USA Track and Field, athletics’ US governing body, also called for a postponement. Meanwhile, many qualifying events had already been compromised and training severely disrupted. Had the event gone ahead, it certainly could not have been on a level playing field.

The joint statement from Japan and the IOC concluded:

“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 Olympics have never been delayed in their 124-year modern history, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars.


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