The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to no later than the summer of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on Tuesday.
The Tokyo Games were scheduled for July 24-August 9, but after telephone discussions between IOC president Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a historic joint decision was taken for the first postponement of an Olympics in peacetime.
Shinzo Abe had earlier said Bach was in “100 percent agreement” when Japan asked the IOC to push back the Games.
The IOC had come under mounting pressure in recent days to postpone the world’s biggest sporting event, with teams, athletes and sports bodies all calling for a delay.
The postponement comes after top federations announced they would pull out of the Tokyo Games, the highest-profile event to be affected by a virus that has decimated the sporting calendar.
Around 1.7 billion people across the world are in lockdown to prevent the further spread of a virus that has killed over 16,200 people and infected more than 377,000.
On Sunday, the IOC had initially given itself a deadline of four weeks to come up with a proposal to postpone the Games, a Herculean task that touches on every aspect of Tokyo 2020 planning from venues to security to ticketing.
But after Canada and Australia withdrew their teams and the powerful US Olympic Committee and World Athletics also joined the chorus calling for a postponement, the writing was on the wall for the July start.
Tokyo was spending some $12.6 billion to host the Games, according to its latest budget.
It is also be a bitter blow to sponsors and major broadcasters who rely on the four-yearly extravaganza for critical advertising revenue.
It is not the first time Tokyo has seen unscheduled changes to the Games — it was due to be the first Asian country to host the Olympics in 1940 before pulling out due to international pressure over its war with China.
The IOC came under fire for taking so long to make its decision after other major events such as the European Football Championships already announced postponements.
British cyclist Callum Skinner had strongly criticised IOC president Thomas Bach, accusing him of placing his own interests first.
“Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance has spectacularly failed in this instance and he has weakened the Olympic movement,” Skinner wrote on Twitter.
“This isn’t the first time he has put his own motives above the athletes and the movement.”
Squeezing in the 16-day Games into what will already be a hugely crowded 2021 calendar is another major headache, with arguably the two biggest sports, swimming and athletics, due to hold their world championships that summer.
However, World Athletics has already said it was prepared to shift its world championships, scheduled for August 6-15 next year in Oregon, to accommodate a move in the Games.