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Faster, higher, stronger... later

For the first time in 124 years, Olympic Games postponed by a year to 2021 following Covid-19 pandemic.

Updated: Mar 25, 2020 14:23 IST

By Agencies, Tokyo

Visitors wearing protective face masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen through the Olympic rings in front of the Japan Olympics Museum, a day after the announcement of the games' postponement to 2021, in Tokyo, Japan March 25, 2020. (Reuters photo)

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed on Tuesday to next year, the first such delay in the Games’ 124-year modern history, as the Covid-19 crisis wrecked the biggest global sporting showpiece. New dates have not been discussed yet.

Though a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in the run-up, the decision was a relief to thousands of athletes fretting over how to train as the world headed into lockdown to fight a disease that has claimed more than 18,000 lives.

Pressure had been building on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its German president, Thomas Bach, with some athletes and sports bodies angry that a seemingly inevitable decision had taken so long. The decision came a day after Canada and Australia announced they would not take part if the Games was held on its original dates---July 24 to August 9.

After telephone discussions between Bach and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, a historic joint decision was taken to delay the Olympics—the first time that has been done in peacetime. Olympics were not held in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of the World Wars. IOC announced the Olympics will be staged no later than the summer of 2021.


Abe said Bach was in “100 percent agreement” when Japan asked IOC to push back the Games. In a joint statement, they said the Games “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympics 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 statement said.

Olympic officials regularly lauded Tokyo as the best prepared host city they had seen. But no one could have planned for the pandemic.

The Olympics, which has experienced boycotts, terrorist attacks and protests but has been held every four years since 1948, is the highest-profile event affected by the virus that has forced the closure of sports competitions worldwide.


Bach said the decision to postpone was “about protecting human life”. Squeezing in the 16-day Games into what will already be a hugely crowded 2021 calendar is another major headache, with arguably the two biggest sports, swimming and athletics, due to hold world championships that summer. World Athletics has already said it was prepared to shift its event scheduled in Eugene, Oregon from August 6-15 to 2022. World Athletics, whose president Sebastian Coe had backed a postponement, welcomed Tuesday’s decision.

British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, the world 200m champion and rising star of women’s athletics, posted on Instagram: “#Tokyo2021, Same fire, new dates. Stay at home and stay safe everyone.”

Swimming world body said it would also work with local organisers “to determine flexibility” for their scheduled July 16-August 1 world championships next year in Fukuoka, Japan.


The postponement will be a massive blow for the city of Tokyo. British Olympic Association chairman Hugh Robertson said it was “heartbreaking news for our many friends in Japan who have done superbly well to prepare for what I know will be an outstanding Games”.

The IOC came under increasing pressure to postpone the Games, with billions of people across the planet in lockdown to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. Training had become impossible for many athletes and exposed them to the risk of contracting or spreading the disease. Competitions and qualifying events were scrapped while international travel is severely limited. On Sunday, IOC had given itself a deadline of four weeks to come up with a proposal to postpone the Games, a Herculean task that touches on every aspect of planning from venues to security to ticketing. But after Canada and Australia withdrew their teams and the powerful US Olympic Committee and World Athletics called for a postponement, the writing was on the wall.

Tokyo was spending some $12.6 billion to host the Games, according to its latest budget. Experts believe a postponement could cost it some $6 billion in the short-term before recouping it when they eventually go ahead.

Tennis player Kei Nishikori promptly sent a simple tweet of four pairs of hands held together in prayer, an emoji for ‘thank you’.


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