Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach have reached an agreement to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until no later than the summer of 2021, the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan announced.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the IOC released a joint statement announcing the decision.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the (World Health Organization) 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 statement said.
Despite the postponement, the Games will keep the name “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
Abe said on Tuesday that Bach agreed “100 per cent” with the decision to postpone the event amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The two had a telephone talk in which Abe cited the need to take “into consideration the current circumstances,” and to secure a safe environment for athletes and fans.
Bach had previously announced that the IOC would make a decision on the Tokyo Games within the next four weeks.
Abe also said on Tuesday that he hopes the coronavirus outbreak will be contained by the summer of 2021, when the Tokyo Games will be held at the latest.
“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,” said the statement. “Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan.”
Four-time Olympic hockey gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser was the first IOC member to publicly criticize Bach’s previous stance that the Games would go ahead as planned.
After the announcement Tuesday, the Canadian praised the decision to delay the event.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee, which announced that it would pull its athletes out of a summer Games on Sunday, thanked the IOC for its decision.
“With this postponement, the IOC has given Tokyo hopefuls worldwide the clarity they need about the immediate future, so we can all concentrate on our collective health and wellbeing and take all necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said a joint statement from the organizations.
The latest World Health Organization report shows 334,981 confirmed cases of COVID-19 over 189 countries, areas or territories.
The Tokyo Olympics were expected to run from July 24 to Aug. 9, with the Paralympic Games following from Aug. 25 to Sep. 6. Organizers’ expectation was to make 7.8 million tickets available for the event.
The Olympics have never postponed before, and have only previously been cancelled in wartime.
Organizers will now have to determine the next steps, while ensuring venues are maintained for possibly another 12 months.
“A lot can happen in one year, so we have to think about what we have to do,” Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, told the Associated Press.
“The decision came upon us all of a sudden.”
The announcement that the Games had been postponed came shortly after local organizers said the Olympic torch relay would go ahead as planned on Thursday in the northeastern Fukushima prefecture.
— With files from the Associated Press.