Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed until 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic
This summer's event in Japan was due to start on July 24 but will now take place no later than summer 2021; SSN's Geraint Hughes analyses the impact on athletes
Last Updated: 25/03/20 6:16am
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games has been postponed by one year until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Olympics was due to be held in Japan from July 24 to August 9, while the Paralympics was set to run from August 25 to September 6, but both have now been rescheduled for next year.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the Games will be held no later than the summer of 2021 but the event will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The IOC said in a statement: "In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the World Health Organisation 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."
Pressure had been mounting on the IOC, the local organisers and the Japanese government to confirm a delay, with athletes around the globe unable to train due to social distancing measures imposed to limit the spread of the virus and a number of teams already pulling their teams out of the Games.
The postponement is the first in the Olympics' 124-year history, having only ever previously been cancelled in wartime.
The Olympic flame will remain in Japan, and is being stored and displayed in Fukushima.
The IOC statement continued: "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."
The Olympic flame arrived in Japan last week after a torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece, and a domestic relay of the flame had been due to kick off on Thursday.
But pressure on the IOC to postpone this summer's Games intensified in recent days, with Canada and Australia refusing to participate if the Games went ahead while the United States had called for its postponement.
Q&A: Was Tokyo 2020 postponement inevitable?
by Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes...
Is postponing the Olympics the correct decision?
Judging by the actions of the Canadian and Australian Olympic Committees in withdrawing their teams on Monday, and a plethora of athletes calling for the IOC to postpone the Games, then it seems clear cut that the decision will have the backing of most.
Now the Games have been officially postponed, it's difficult if not impossible to find a voice criticising the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers for their decision. In the UK, there is a chorus of agreement from the British Olympic Association (BOA), British Paralympic Association (BPA), UK Sport, the Government and many, many athletes.
Should organisers have waited this long?
This is where that chorus of agreement is no longer in tune with the IOC. Why is it only now that the Olympics have been postponed, when the rest of the sporting calendar has been pretty much shut down including football's European Championships?
Athletes have been saying for days if not weeks that they need clarity from the IOC and Tokyo 2020. While the IOC was telling athletes to prepare as normal for a July start, many test events and Olympic sport competitions were being postponed or cancelled, so the message was very confusing. "How can we prepare if we have no competition to get ready? How can we train if our facilities for training are shut?" were recurring questions.
From the IOC's standpoint, it's been the most difficult peacetime decision the organisation has had to make. Three times during periods of war the Olympics were cancelled, but never have a Games been postponed.
There is also the issue of the contract between the IOC and Tokyo. The Host City Agreement states that the IOC has the right to withdraw hosting of a Games if it does not take place in an Olympic year. Clearly due to the coronavirus pandemic, the situation that faces both the IOC and Tokyo could not have been foreseen, but it is not in a legal document.
Given the cost of staging Tokyo 2020 is somewhere in the region of £12.5 billion, the complexity of the commercial and sponsorship contracts let alone global broadcasting deals, the IOC has had a fair bit of work on its hands.
Nevertheless, given the actions of UEFA, of domestic football leagues and other sports throughout the world in the past few weeks, many people will be asking if the IOC's steadfast commitment to hosting the Games come what may was a position that looks a little ill-judged now.
Did the IOC and Tokyo 2020 only react because of the withdrawal of teams by Canada and Australia?
It will be a factor that focused minds along with the growing noise from athletes around the world urging the IOC not just for clarity, but to postpone the Olympics.
The IOC will argue that one of their key markers in decision making was advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) who have in the last 24 hours confirmed to the IOC that the growth of the pandemic is now alarming.
What does this mean for athletes?
At least they now know what is happening. Many athletes were feeling awkward about the prospect of competing at Tokyo 2020 this summer when all other sport was postponed or cancelled, and people around the world were suffering.
In terms of preparation, it will be a blow - from archery to boxing, canoeing to rowing, shooting and track and field, athletes have been honing their skills to be the very best they could be this July and August.
The Olympics are the pinnacle for many sports, so peaking is centred around a few weeks every four years. Athletes will have to adjust to whenever the Games are rearranged, it's as simple as that. The rest of the world is rearranging their lives, so it is no different for any prospective Olympian.
In terms of funding, UK Sport CEO Sally Munday has sent out a welcome message to funded athletes saying they will not have to repay any money they received helping them get to Tokyo 2020. They will also be working with Government to come up with a plan to help athletes financially as they look towards a potential Olympics in 2021.
Will athletes now take time off and start again?
Some will, some won't. Some athletes cannot train right now due to lockdown restrictions; some may be able to do something, if not quite the usual. What is clear is that any thoughts of competitive sport are off the agenda right now.
Lord Coe, president of World Athletics, has suggested he will look to alter the timetable of the athletics season - start later and finish later this year, and work around athletes' needs in 2021. Coronavirus has meant that people from all walks of life have to compromise and make sacrifices. Sport is no different.
Where personal human stories may become quite emotional is for athletes who were hoping to retire after Tokyo 2020. Can they drag aging bodies to their fitness and mental levels required at a later date? Some will do so, others will not have the chance.