“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.”
One day after the Japanese government determined that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 could not be held as planned, the date for the event was moved from 2020 into 2021, as announced in a joint statement between International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach (GER) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Simple, but not easy.
Abe told reporters that “I confirmed with President Bach that there will be no cancellation. We agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest.
“I agreed with President Bach to closely coordinate toward holding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in a complete way to demonstrate that humankind has overcome the new coronavirus.”
This is the first time than an Olympic Games has changed dates; the Games scheduled for 1916, 1940 and 1944 were canceled due to war.
Significantly, the joint statement referenced the World Health Organization’s status report on the spread of the coronavirus:
“The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating. Yesterday, 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 addition., the planned 121-day Olympic Torch Relay, set to start on Thursday, was canceled by the Tokyo organizers on Tuesday. “We will not start the torch relay, while we will discuss countermeasures,” said organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori. “In response to the postponement of the Olympics, we will draw a new plan for the relay.”
A message from U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee chief executive Sarah Hirshland included:
“Despite the feeling of eventuality that so many of us have felt in the lead up to this moment – my heart breaks for you, your fellow athletes around the world, our friends at Tokyo 2020, the people of Japan, and all who are impacted by this global pandemic and the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games 2020. …
“This summer was supposed to be a culmination of your hard work and life’s dream, but taking a step back from competition to care for our communities and each other is the right thing to do. Your moment will wait until we can gather again safely.
“I wish I had answers to every question out there, but the reality is this decision is unprecedented, and therefore, presents an entirely new process – for you, for the organizers, for the NGBs and for the USOPC. Please know we are committed to working with you in the coming days, weeks, and months to address them together.”
So now everyone – except the IOC and all those involved in the Games in Japan – can relax for a few minutes and worry about things other than an Olympic Games this summer. But, without doubt, the collateral impact of this decision will be enormous and alter the sports landscape worldwide for two or more years.
But the decision has been made. As Winston Churchill famously said in another context 78 years ago: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”