KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have been called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. An unprecedented move will almost certainly see them staged at around the same July/August dates next year.

Japan’s government and its Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, finally bowed to the inevitable only two days after the executive board of the International Olympic Committee hesitantly pointed up a need for four weeks to come to a decision about “scenario-planning.”

Pressure had been growing, from athletes – traditionally supposed to be “at the heart of the Games” – and their coaches for the IOC to demonstrate that it understood the realities of a sporting life in which training facilities and travel operations had been shut down by a public health crisis whose ramifications were far more serious than any event, no matter how high-profile.

No alternative: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Announcement of withdrawal from the Olympic committees of Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway and the United States pushed the Japanese hosts and the Olympic bosses over the edge.

IOC president Thomas Bach and Prime Minister Abe had held a firm line of resistance until a  conference call this morning which was also joined by senior government ministers, host city organisers and IOC directors.

‘Shared concern’

A statement said:

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.

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 World Health Organization today, the IOC president and the Prime Minister 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.

Olympics have been cancelled on several on previous occasions down the years because of war but never previously postponed.

The decision was largely welcomed with relief by Olympic committee leaders around the world. A new challenge for Bach is now reaching operational agreements with the various stakeholders, most notably the broadcasters who effectively underwrite the costs of the Games.