The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have moved to postpone the Tokyo summer games until 2021, according to a joint statement from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee on Tuesday (March 24).
The Japanese leader said he proposed a delay of “about one year” and received “100 percent agreement” from Thomas Bach, IOC president, during a joint conference call.
The move is necessary “to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” the statement said.
The decision to postpone the games followed a Monday (March 23) announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He said the pandemic is "accelerating," with over 375,000 cases across the globe in almost every country and the numbers escalating hourly.
No new date for the summer games has been set, but it will be no later than the summer of 2021, according to the statement.
The committee said the Olympic flame will remain in Japan, as will the name – Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“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,” according to the statement.
Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the IOC, told USA Today that the rest of the details will be worked out over the next month.
“It will come in stages,” said Pound, 78, the longest-serving IOC member. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”
Talks about how the pandemic would affect the Olympics had been ongoing for several weeks. On Sunday (March 22), Bach said a postponement was one of many possibilities. He wrote to the athlete community that all options were being explored, but also stressed that the IOC and the Japanese prime minister were not planning to postpone the games.
Numerous events have been canceled or moved online due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the annual music and culture festival SXSW in Austin, Texas was canceled due to fears over the spreading virus. Festival organizers said they were exploring options for rescheduling and could potentially provide an online experience.