Report: Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed to 2021 due to coronavirus


Simon Biles, an Olympics champion, is the most decorated American gymnast of all time.

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Huge numbers of sporting events have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. And now it looks like the granddaddy of global sporting events, the Tokyo Olympic Games, set for this summer, will join them. On Monday, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA Today that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will be postponed, likely to 2021. The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and it was unclear if Pound was speaking officially for the entire organization.

“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound told USA Today. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Details are yet to be worked out, the newspaper reported.

Also on Monday, Reuters reported that Japan Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita said he was considering postponement, reflecting the most recent comments from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. US President Donald Trump tweeted that he will back whatever decision Abe makes: “We will be guided by the wishes of Prime Minister Abe of Japan.”

If the event were to take place as scheduled, Canadian and Australian athletes wouldn’t compete. On March 22, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee announced that their teams won’t head to Tokyo and urged the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee to postpone competition for one year. The Australian Olympic Committee’s executive board also unanimously agreed not to send a team and urged athletes to instead prepare for a summer 2021 event. 

And on March 20, USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, sent a letter to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee urging the group to postpone the Summer Games to 2021. “The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations,” the letter said. 

The Olympic flame was handed off to the Tokyo organizing committee on March 19, though the ceremony was smaller and more low-key than it would have been without coronavirus fears. “I wish to believe that the journey of the Olympic flame in your country will offer joy and hope to the people of the whole world, who are currently in pain and challenged.” said Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos.

The virus came close to the Olympics on March 19, when it was announced that Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, 82, attended a March 10 meeting with Kozo Tashima, the deputy head of the Japanese Olympic Committee who later tested positive for coronavirus. Mori has no symptoms and hasn’t been tested. The men were seated about 10 meters (about 32 feet) apart.

The Olympics are huge, both in numbers of people involved, and in billions of dollars spent. More than 11,000 athletes from 206 nations are hoping to compete in 339 events. Many thousands more are planning to work in some part of the games, from food and souvenir vendors to hotel clerks to trainers and coaches. NBC is set to broadcast the games in the US, even offering a dedicated streaming Olympics package for those who want to watch as much as possible, with no ads. And as evidenced by the fact that tickets sold out last July, thousands more are planning to watch the events, whether traveling from across town or across the planet. All of these people’s lives will be drastically altered should the games be postponed or canceled.

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Has this ever happened before?

Yes. The 1916 Summer Games were canceled due to a little event called World War I. The 1940 and 1944 Games, both winter and summer, were canceled due to World War II. (Japan was the country affected back then, too — the 1940 Games were set for Tokyo and Sapporo.) Other games have been affected by boycotts. By contrast, in 2016, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, played out as scheduled despite scientists’ warnings about the Zika virus.

The next Olympics after Tokyo are the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, followed by the 2024 Paris Summer Games, and then the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, Italy.

CNET’s Sean Keane contributed to this report.

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