In Depth

‘The only decision we can support’: reactions to the postponement of Tokyo 2020

Olympic and Paralympic Games will now take place no later than summer 2021

British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Anson says the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is accepted with “profound sadness”, but delaying the event by one year was the “only decision we could support”. 

This year’s international sports events calendar has been decimated due to the global coronavirus pandemic and many major events have been postponed or cancelled. 

European football’s governing body Uefa announced last week that this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament would now take place in 2021 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has now followed suit with Tokyo 2020 postponed until next year. 

Following Canada’s decision not to send a team to the games this summer and concerns from athletes and associations over health and training, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed that he and IOC president Thomas Bach had agreed to a one-year delay to the Tokyo mega-event. 

Abe said: “I proposed to postpone for a year and [IOC] president Thomas Bach responded with 100% agreement.”

The Olympics, which were due to start on 24 July, will still be called Tokyo 2020 despite now being scheduled to take place “no later than summer 2021”. The Paralympics were set to begin in Japan’s capital city on 25 August.

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Official statement on the postponement

In a joint statement, the IOC and 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.”

Tokyo Olympic Games

Getty Images

Reactions to the postponement 

Andy Anson, chief executive of the British Olympic Association

“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.”

Mike Sharrock, CEO of the British Paralympic Association

“We welcome the clarity this now gives Paralympic athletes throughout the world who have had their training and qualification plans severely disrupted but also recognise it will still be a deeply unsettling time for athletes who have worked for years focussed on delivering their best possible performance in Tokyo this summer. 

“The British Paralympic Association is already implementing contingency plans to ensure ParalympicGB athletes have everything in place to be best prepared for the Games when they are staged in 2021.”

Sally Munday, CEO of UK Sport 

“Given the unprecedented global challenge we face, today’s news means that athletes, their coaches and support staff can now fully focus on what really matters at this terribly difficult time, keeping themselves and their families safe.

“I’d like to thank all our athletes who are playing a role in so many different ways in these challenging times, from supporting their local communities to inspiring us to stay active in our own homes. I’d also like to reassure the public that whilst the games are postponed, we strongly believe the power of sport will inspire the nation again.”

Andrew Parson, president of the International Paralympic Committee

“The only logical option. The health and wellbeing of human life must always be our number-one priority and staging a sporting event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible. Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is. It is essential, therefore, that all steps are taken to try to limit the spread of this disease. 

“By taking this decision now, everyone involved in the Paralympic movement, including all Para-athletes, can fully focus on their own health and wellbeing and staying safe during this unprecedented and difficult time.”

World Athletics 

“It is what athletes want and we believe this decision will give all athletes, technical officials and volunteers some respite and certainty in these unprecedented and uncertain times.

“Athletics will continue to do whatever it can to preserve and create an outdoor season of one-day meetings in 2020, starting and ending later than usual, so athletes, when they are able and it is safe to, will have access to competitions in every region. This will help them benchmark their performances and adjust their training accordingly for an Olympic Games in 2021. 

“In light of this announcement, we will also expedite our current review of the Olympic qualification system, in cooperation with the IOC, and release any changes to the process as soon as possible so athletes know where they stand. 

“World Athletics stands ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date for the Olympic Games in 2021 and has already been in discussion with the Organising Committee of the World Athletics Championships Oregon 21 regarding the possibility of moving the dates of this highly popular worldwide event. 

“They have reassured us that they will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates, including dates in 2022.”

World Rugby

“The health and safety of the athletes, fans, and everyone involved is our shared priority and responsibility and we believe the right decision has been taken in these very difficult and unprecedented circumstances. 

“We look forward to working closely together in a spirit of partnership with the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and all other stakeholders towards the rescheduling of the Games and our belief from the outstanding Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, is that the hosts will come out of this adversity stronger and more committed than ever before to deliver an exceptional Games.”

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For analysis of the biggest sport stories - and a concise, balanced take on the week’s news - try The Week magazine. Start your trial today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  

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