The 2020 Summer Olympics are officially postponed, reports the New York Times. Full details have yet to be announced, but on Monday, March 23, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA Today that the games would most likely be delayed until 2021. On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed the news, saying that he and the IOC had agreed on the decision “100 percent.”
The postponement comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the IOC and the athletic community. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were scheduled to begin on July 24, but athletic groups called for them to be postponed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even if global travel becomes safe again by July, athletes argued that it’s not currently safe to train at Olympic levels. Athletes in countries affected by coronavirus have limited ability to effectively prepare for a July event, so a July Olympics wouldn’t have a level playing field.
The IOC, meanwhile, maintained a “wait-and-see stance,” saying it would be irresponsible to speculate on what the future might hold, but avowed that it would absolutely not cancel the 2020 Olympics. In an interview with the New York Times last Thursday, IOC president Thomas Bach officially refused to set a date by which point he would make a decision about the future of the 2020 games.
Over the past few days, pressure to postpone the Olympics mounted. The Olympic committees for both Norway and Brazil issued statements calling for the games to be postponed. On Friday, USA Swimming and USA Track and Field submitted open letters to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee requesting that the games be postponed for one year. USA Gymnastics sent a survey to its members to determine what its own stance would be.
On Sunday, Bach wrote a letter to the athletic community at last indicating that he might be open to postponing the games and pledging to come to a decision within four weeks. Just hours later, both Canada and Australia responded that they would send no athletes to the 2020 games unless the games were postponed one year.
On Monday, the IOC’s Pound said the 2020 Olympics would be postponed. “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.”
However, in a statement to Vox later the same day, an IOC spokesperson seemed to throw cold water on Pound’s surety. “It is the right of every IOC Member to interpret the decision of the IOC EB which was announced yesterday,” the spokesperson said.
Monday night, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee joined the fray, urging the IOC to postpone the Olympics — and Tuesday morning, the news dropped that the 2020 games would be moved to 2021. This will be the first time the Olympics have been suspended or postponed since World War II.
Update March 24: This article was updated to include IOC’s March 23 statement and with the news that the postponement is now official.