The most well-known international multi-sport event will not take place as scheduled for the first time since the Second World War, due to the coronavirus pandemic that has severely disrupted the lives of peoples and countries across the world.
There have now been almost 400,000 recorded cases of the virus across the globe, with the number of fatalities approaching 17,000.
The Tokyo Olympics were originally scheduled to take place from 24 July to 9 August 2020, with the Paralympics happening afterwards from 25 August to 6 September 2020. Both are now to be rescheduled for Summer 2021, but will still be branded as the 2020 Olympic Games.
The future of the Games in the midst of the current pandemic had been called into question for some time, with the International Olympic Committee and Japanese government originally setting a 4-week deadline to make a decision as to whether they should proceed with the event as planned.
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was initially insistent that the Games go ahead, but later conceded that postponing them was a possibility if the Olympics could not be held in their ‘complete form‘ with the optimal number of athletes and spectators. Further doubts were raised when the Canadian Olympic Committee officially withdrew, citing ‘the health and safety of athletes and the world community‘, while the Australian Olympic Committee said the massive disruption caused by the outbreak would make it impossible to assemble a team in time for the Games. The New Zealand Olympic Committee also pressured the IOC and Japan to delay the Games, suggesting that they and other countries should boycott the event if it went ahead.
More than a performance, a record, or a medal.
— Team Canada (@TeamCanada) March 23, 2020
Earlier today, Mr Abe addressed the Japanese press following a telephone conversation with IOC President Thomas Bach, stating that the latter had ‘agreed 100%‘ to the proposal of delaying the Olympics for one year, and to ‘keep the Olympic Flame in Japan‘ for when they do go ahead. This is the first time in the history of the modern Olympics that an event has been postponed, although earlier Games had been cancelled altogether during WW1 and WW2.
While the Olympic Games is the biggest sporting event to be affected by the pandemic, there has been a huge impact on multiple significant tournaments and sports:
- In rugby union, the end of this year’s Six Nations was postponed, with four outstanding fixtures to be rearranged in the men’s tournament.
- In football, Euro 2020 was postponed and will be played in the summer of 2021, while sport in the UK is suspended until 30 April at the earliest.
- The first eight grands prix of the Formula 1 season have been delayed, with the Monaco Grand Prix cancelled.
- County cricket in England and Wales will not be played before 28 May; England’s three-Test series against West Indies, due to start at The Oval on 4 June, is in doubt.
- All forms of professional tennis have been postponed until 7 June, while the French Open has been rescheduled for September.
- Golf’s Masters and PGA Championship have both been postponed, with a decision yet to be made about September’s Ryder Cup.
- The London Marathon has been moved from 26 April to 4 October.
British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Anson commented:
It would have been unthinkable for us to continue to prepare for an Olympic Games at a time the nation and the world no less is enduring great hardship. A postponement is the right decision
British Paralympics Association chief executive Mike Sharrock added:
Stemming this global public health crisis and doing everything possible to safeguard the health and wellbeing of people should clearly take priority in these unprecedented times. We welcome the clarity this now gives Paralympic athletes throughout the world who have had their training and qualification plans severely disrupted
The ‘2020’ Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo are to be followed by Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.