Coronavirus has thrown the 2020 sporting calendar into complete disarray. The premonition all sports lover had and yet were in denial is coming true. The event that unifies the world — the Summer Olympics — will not be held as planned due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yesterday, Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), broke the news the 2020 Tokyo games, scheduled to run from July 24 – Aug 9, will be pushed back, most likely until 2021, though there are still details that need to be contemplated out over the next month.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound told USA Today Sports. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
“It will come in stages,” he added. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”
The 78-year-old Pound, it should be noted, is not on the IOC’s executive committee. He is one of 100 IOC members. The organisation, however, wouldn’t confirm this is the plan.
“It is the right of every IOC member to interpret the decision of the IOC executive board which was announced [on Sunday],” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said.
While Japan had previously said the games should go on as planned, prime minster Shinzo Abe made it sound like pushing back the event was inevitable. “If I’m asked whether we can hold the Olympics at this point in time, I would have to say that the world is not in such a condition,” Abe said, according to CNN.
Athletes have stressed the need to push back the games despite the Opening Ceremonies still four months away because the virus has limited training regimens and impacted qualifying procedures. Workout facilities and gyms have closed as the pandemic has spread. On March 19, the State Department suggested Americans not travel abroad.
There were signs this postponement was coming. On Sunday, IOC president Thomas Bach said a decision would be made in the next four weeks about the games, though he ruled out canceling them and noted the organisation would “step-up its scenario planning.” He wrote a letter to Olympic athletes that said the IOC would look at different ways to go on with the games, including postponing them. Hours later, the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees announced they would not be sending teams to Tokyo unless the games were postponed until 2021. Australia said it would be unable to put together a team “in the changing circumstances at home and abroad,” while Olympic committees from Germany, Norway and Brazil have publicly lobbied for the IOC to move back the games.
Also, High Robertson, the British Olympic Association chairman, expected Britain to be joining Canada and Australia.
“We can’t see any way that this can go ahead as things are constituted,” Robertson said, according to bbc.com. “I expect we will be joining Canada and Australia shortly.”
A couple of days earlier, USA Track and Field and USA Swimming called for a postponement and asked the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to use its considerable power to make such a move happen. At least one IOC member is on record saying it has already happened.
“I’ve had so many calls with athletes who have been in tears trying to train for their ultimate dream but not wanting to jeopardise their health,” American hurdler Lolo Jones tweeted after Pound’s comments were published. “This was the right thing to do. May the world heal.”
This marks the first time the Olympics have ever been postponed. They have been cancelled before due to war. Three other times, the games were cancelled altogether because of World War I (1916) and World War II (1940 and 1944) – and in those latter two quadrennials, both the Summer and Winter Games were shelved.
Berlin was set to host the 1916 Summer Olympics after they won the bids over Alexandria, Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest and Cleveland. The German constructed a brand new facility known as the Deutsches Stadion to host of the game, which was inaugurated in 1913. However, the first World War erupted in July 1914. No one imagined that the hostilities will continue for two years and athletes carried on with their preparations.
The horrific war lasted until 1918, eventually forcing the Olympics to be cancelled. The Berlin stadium was demolished some two decades later and replaced by a new structure that would serve as the main stadium for the 1936 Games, when the German capital finally got another chance to host. Adolf Hitler had risen to power by then, and India’s hockey gold medal win at that year is still counted as amongst the country’s greatest sporting moments.
In an era when the selected nation got the option of hosting both the Summer and Winter Games in the same year, Japan was the first non-western country to be awarded the Olympics. Tokyo was to be the summer host, with Sapporo getting the winter version.
Again, war got in the way. Japan invaded China in 1937, prompting the Asian country to surrender its hosting duties the next year after some military leaders reportedly demanded that venues be constructed from wood because metals were needed for the war effort.
The International Olympic Committee hastily named Helsinki, runner-up in the initial bidding, to serve as summer city, with the winter events going to 1928 host St. Moritz, Switzerland. A dispute with Swiss organisers led to one more change, as the Winter Games were shifted a second time to Garmisch- Partenkirchen, the German host in 1936 alongside Berlin.
Of course, after World War II erupted in September 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland, the Olympics were cancelled altogether. Tokyo would eventually get a chance to host the Summer Games in 1964 – still the first Asian city to receive the honour – while Sapporo landed the 1972 Winter Games.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, to find replacement hosts for 1940, the IOC awarded London the 1944 Summer Games in balloting that also included Athens, Budapest, Detroit, Helsinki, Lausanne, Montreal and Rome. With England not a feasible host for the Winter Games, that event was awarded to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
The 1944 Olympics never had a chance. World War II dragged on until the following year. London would then be awarded the 1948 Summer Games, the first in 12 years and staged in austere conditions as the city continued to recover from the war.