UPDATE: On Tuesday, it was officially announced that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will be postponed until 2021.
From the Associated Press:
The International Olympic Committee along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers have decided that the Tokyo Games cannot go ahead as scheduled this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The IOC says the games will be held "not later than summer 2021" but they will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
This is a small portion of the mission behind the Olympic Movement. On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee’s [IOC] Executive Board released a statement that scenario-planning for postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games was being ramped up in response to rapidly growing concerns about COVID-19, and that the organization’s reluctance to come to terms that staging the event in July was impractical and irresponsible.
“The IOC will, in full coordination and partnership with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, start detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement,” the statement read.
“The IOC is confident that it will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks, and greatly appreciates the solidarity and partnership of the NOCs and IFs in supporting the athletes and adapting Games planning.”
Plans didn't take long to begin trickling out. On Monday, Dick Pound, a long-time IOC member, told USA Today that the organization has moved forward with postponing the event, with a deferment to 2021 as a likely solution.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
Pound is the most senior of the IOC's 100 elected members, though is not on the 15-member executive committee that "assumes the general overall responsibility for the administration of the IOC." Spokesperson Mark Adams responded by stating, “it is the right of every IOC Member to interpret the decision of the IOC [Executive Board] which was announced yesterday.”
BREAKING: The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee will refuse to send athletes to the Tokyo Olympics if the event is not postponed.The 2020 Games are currently set to begin on July 24. News release: pic.twitter.com/NT8twsqAXI— CBC News Alerts (@CBCAlerts) March 23, 2020
On Sunday evening, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee announced it would not send its athletes to Tokyo if the events moved forward as planned, making clear the safety of everyone is the top priority during the pandemic.
“This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health. With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games.”
The joint statement advocated for a one-year postponement. Two-time Olympian Vasek Pospisil, who lost in the bronze medal doubles match four years ago in Rio de Janeiro with Daniel Nestor, was in complete agreement with his National Olympic Committee's decision.
“The way things are going right now, sports can wait. Logistically for the safety of everyone involved in the Games, the world has other things to worry about right now, Pospisil told SportsNet Canada. “We need to wait for all this to pass. The fallout of it will be quite significant and dramatic, I assume. It makes sense to focus all of our energy and resources on trying to stop this pandemic.”
Not long after, the Australian Olympic Committee [AOC] followed suit, telling its athletes to start making preparations for the Games to be held in 2021. Two days earlier, the Australian government closed its borders to non-residents and tourists in a travel ban that could last up to six months or longer.
“The IOC had adopted the key principles of putting athlete health first and ensuring it acted in their best interests and the interests of sport. This decision reflects those principles,” the AOC's statement said. “We are now in a position where we can plan with greater certainty.”
Later Monday evening, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee echoed the overall sentiment, after more than 1,780 individual athletes (roughly 45% of those contacted) responded to a survey within 38 hours. In its findings, nearly 65% said their training has either been severely impacted or they can’t train at all, and 68% felt the Olympics could not be competed on an equal playing field if it stuck to its original dates.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons And CEO Sarah Hirshland said. “To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”
Scheduling will be one of the trickiest obstacles for organizers to sort through. A one-year delay also begs a number of questions: will qualifying standards or country quotas be amended for any sports as part of the overhaul? How does this change perspectives for the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams, who will turn 40 next August and September? Could the IOC select a window that clashes with one of the Grand Slam tournaments? Is there now an open window for Wimbledon to buy themselves more time to host their 2020 event in late July or early August?
The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, the event was held in mid-October. An Olympics has never been postponed previously. Three were cancelled due to the World Wars, in 1916, 1940 (also due to be held in Tokyo) and 1944.