The Tokyo Summer Olympics will not begin in late July and instead will be held “by the summer of 2021,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Tuesday. The news follows growing calls for the games to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abe revealed the decision to journalists after speaking by phone with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. Abe’s office said via Twitter, “the two have agreed that the Tokyo Olympic Games would not be canceled, and the games will be held by the summer of 2021.”
The IOC and Tokyo organizers released a joint statement saying the games won’t be held in 2020 in an attempt “to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
Until this week, Olympic organizers had insisted that the Tokyo games would go on as planned, dismissing any talk of forming contingency plans for dealing with a deadly respiratory disease that is now found in nearly every country in the world.
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In announcing the decision to delay the games, the organizers said the Olympic flame — which recently reached Japan after being lit in Greece — will remain in Japan until the postponed games are held.
They also said the name of the games — which is plastered on signs, toys and all manner of branded materials — will not change. Despite being held in 2021, the upcoming Olympics will retain the formal title of “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
The organizers also said they hope that eventually, “the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.”
In addition to the potential risks to public safety that massive Olympics crowds would entail at a time when a pandemic is raging, athletes in many countries have seen their training disrupted or interrupted, and the coronavirus has forced a number of high-profile qualifying competitions to be canceled or postponed.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee joined those calling for a postponement on Tuesday, releasing a statement saying that after speaking with athletes on the team, the committee had concluded that “the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner.”
The U.S. committee urged the IOC to ensure that the Tokyo games are “conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.” [Copyright 2020 NPR]