Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach agreed on Tuesday to postpone this summer’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese leader said.
After speaking with Bach over the phone, Abe told reporters that they will aim to hold the Olympics and Paralympics next year. It is the first time ever that the quadrennial sporting event has been postponed.
The postponement will give a big blow to host Japan and is certain to have a cascade of economic, political and social ramifications. It will also pose considerable logistical challenges to Olympic organisers.
The phone talks came amid mounting pressure from athletes and sports organisations to reschedule the Olympics due to the rapid spread of the virus, and just a day after Abe told parliament that the Summer Games cannot be held under the current circumstances, suggesting for the first time that they may have to be postponed.
More than 380,000 people have been infected and over 16,000 who contracted the pneumonia-causing COVID-19 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
As the World Health Organization has warned that “the pandemic is accelerating,” scores of Olympic qualifiers and major sports tournaments have been canceled, while countless travel restrictions have been imposed across the globe.
The IOC has said so far only 57 per cent of athletes have been qualified for the forthcoming games, although the Olympic flame was lit on March 12 in Greece as planned and it arrived in Japan on Friday.
“If it is difficult to hold the games in a complete way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to (the health of the) athletes,” Abe said Monday.
Hosting a “complete” games mean there will be spectators as usual and no downsizing involved, according to the prime minister.
President Bach and Prime Minister Abe expressed their shared concern about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and what it is doing to people’s lives and the significant impact it is having on global athletes’ preparations for the Games.
In a very friendly and constructive meeting, the two leaders praised the work of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and noted the great progress being made in Japan to fight against COVID-19.
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”.
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.
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. 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.