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The Olympic Games will be delayed

Olympic Games
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
The IOC is postponing the 2020 Olympic Games, writes John Dennen

THE International Olympic Committee (IOC) will undertake the mammoth task of postponing the 2020 Olympic Games.

It’s an announcement that is both obvious, considering the devastating impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having across the world, but also a major step. Unpicking the web of commitments that had the Games set to start at the end of July is a considerable operation. Ultimately it had to happen both for the well being of athletes and spectators but also as the imperative to reduce the spread of the virus becomes ever more pressing.

On Sunday night (March 22) officials from the Tokyo 2020 organising committee had an urgent video conference with the IOC. With the Games scheduled to begin on July 24, the IOC had to step up planning for alternative scenarios.

Those scenarios related to modifying existing operational plans for the Games and for changes to the start date of the Olympics. The IOC said, “This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan. It will serve as the basis for the best decision in the interest of the athletes and everyone else involved.”

The IOC had given themselves a month to appraise the situation and come to a new conclusion, which most likely would be a delay. Cancellation they insisted was not under consideration. In fact they emphasised “that a cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda.”

There have only been three modern Olympic Games cancelled, in 1916, 1940 and 1944, due to the First and Second World Wars.

A statement from the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said, “We agreed to proceed with detailed discussions of different scenarios, including postponement of the Games, in full coordination with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Government of Japan, relevant Japanese authorities, international sport federations and National Olympic Committees.”

“Cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Games is not on the agenda,” they added.

But postponement will consume their agenda. Japan’s political leadership does want the Games to take place in full. But Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe for the first time acknowledged the need for a delay, another seismic shift in their public stance. On Tuesday he said that the Games should be pushed back a year.

He held a discussion with IOC president Thomas Bach and they concluded the 2020 Games should be postponed but held no later than 2021.

In a joint statement the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said, “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’. There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.

“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.”

All this comes after pressure from bodies representing Olympic athletes had mounted. Canada revealed they would not send a team to an Olympic Games in 2020. They wanted it held back by a year. Australia’s Olympic committee expected that eventuality too. World Athletics had also called on the IOC to postpone Tokyo 2020.

The British Olympic Association had not been expected to be able to send a team to Japan this year.

Chief Executive of the BOA, Andy Anson, said, “It is with profound sadness that we accept the postponement, but in all consciousness it is the only decision we can support, in light of the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on our nation, our communities and our families.

“Alongside UK Sport and the BPA, we have consulted with the National Governing Bodies of summer Olympic and Paralympic sports and with athlete representative groups, including our Athletes’ Commissions and the British Athletes’ Commission. It is with their input and support that we have a unanimous view that the impact of COVID-19 on athletes’ training and preparation means their regimes are now compromised irreparably. It is time for them to stop thinking about Tokyo 2020 for now and be home and safe with their families.

“It would have been unthinkable for us to continue to prepare for an Olympic Games at a time the nation and the world no less is enduring great hardship. A postponement is the right decision.

“We have incredible sympathy for the Tokyo 2020 organising committee and indeed our colleagues at the IOC, who are working tirelessly to seek a positive outcome to this difficult scenario. The Olympic Games is a symbol of hope for us all and we are sure that we will be in Tokyo at the right and appropriate time as the world re-emerges from this dark period.”

Boxing, like many other sports, has had its Olympic qualification process brought to a complete standstill during the coronavirus pandemic as events cannot be held. All Olympic hopefuls have had their own preparations affected as countries have shut down training centres and gyms to try to contain the spread of the virus.

In a letter to athletes IOC president Thomas Bach previously stated that safeguarding the health of everyone involved and contributing to contain the virus is the fundamental principle. He wrote, “Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games. The IOC wants to be part of the solution. Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus. I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, [national Olympic committees] and [international federations] from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

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