IOC, Japan Agree to Postpone Tokyo Olympics to 2021 Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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The International Olympic Committee has finally agreed to postpone the Olympics to Summer 2021 in Tokyo after weeks of mounting pressure and criticism in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

All signs pointed toward a delay after senior IOC member Dick Pound said that the fate of the Tokyo Olympics would be a postponement and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe arranged a conference call with the IOC on Tuesday to propose the Games to be held in 2021. Abe said Bach "agreed 100%."

The IOC issued the following statement:

"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". 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."

The IOC faced months of mounting pressure and criticism from athletes and national governing bodies over their handling of the coronavirus.

The Olympics were set to begin on July 24 with the opening ceremony. This marks the first occasion in which the modern Olympics have been postponed. The Games have previously only been canceled only during wartime in 1916, 1940 and 1944.

There was an option to push back the Olympics to the fall of 2020 but it remains uncertain when the COVID-19 virus will be under control enough to stage sporting events live with spectators. Postponing to 2021 is the safer bet.

Abe and Bach initially remained firm in their stance that the Summer Olympics would go on as planned. Abe's public opinion changed on Monday when he said that the Olympics could not be held in its "complete form" as scheduled due to the pandemic. 

In a letter to athletes, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the IOC gave itself four weeks to make the decision on a postponement. The four-week window was expected to be used to get on the same page with Japanese organizers.

Sebastian Coe, the president of track and field's world governing body, wrote a letter to Bach and said the sport's regional leaders unanimously agreed that hosting the Olympics as scheduled was "neither feasible nor desirable." 

Just hours later, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee announced it would not send athletes to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics and hopes for a postponement into 2021. Australia's Olympic Committee issued a statement saying, “It’s clear the Games can’t be held in July" and pushed for summer 2021.

The United States did not immediately jump on endorsing a postponement. Statements from USA Swimming and USA Track and Field called for a postponement. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee ultimately surveyed 1,780 athletes before determining it is "more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising." 

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland followed up on Tuesday to inform athletes about the postponement and what it means for U.S. athletes going forward.

"Working in partnership with athletes, NGBs, International Federations, the IOC and IPC, we’ll (re)define standards for selection and anti-doping, and ensure the reimagined Games live up to the original promise of Tokyo 2020," Hirshland wrote.

Athletes in the U.S. have been vocal about how the coronavirus has disrupted their training with the closing of several training centers and gyms. Olympic qualifying events and trials are in limbo.

Tokyo has been slated to host the 2020 Olympics since beating Madrid and Istanbul in the bidding for the hosting rights in 2013. The country has spent nearly $12 billion to host the event.