After weeks of speculation, Abe postpones 2020 Olympics to 2021

As more countries said they would pull their athletes out of the Summer Olympics, the IOC and Shinzo Abe stepped up their decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until 2021.

Charly Triballeau/AP
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to journalists in front of the prime minister's residence in Tokyo, March 24, 2020. Mr. Abe says he and the IOC president have agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympics for not longer than one year.

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021, ending weeks of speculation that the games could not go ahead as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Olympic Committee made the decision to postpone on Tuesday after speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers.

The IOC said the games will be held "not later than summer 2021" but that they will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"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 IOC said in a statement.

Before the official announcement, Mr. Abe said Mr. Bach had agreed with his proposal for a one-year postponement.

"President Bach said he will agree '100%,' and we agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest," Mr. Abe said, saying holding the games next year would be "proof of a victory by human beings against the coronavirus infections."

The decision came only a few hours after local organizers said the torch relay would start as planned on Thursday. The Olympic flame  – that arrived on March 12 from Greece – was to be carried in a lantern and transported by a vehicle along what organizers hoped would be empty roadsides, and with curious onlookers practicing social distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Those plans have also changed.

"For the time being, the flame will be stored and displayed in Fukushima," organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said.

"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," the IOC statement said. "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."

The Olympics have never before been postponed, and have only ever previously been canceled in wartime in 1916 due to World War I, and in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II.

The IOC and Tokyo organizers said they hope the decision to postpone will help the world heal from the pandemic.

This decision to postpone comes after facing increasing international pressure from other countries, according to Time magazine:

The athletics governing body U.S.A Track and Field (USATF) called for the Games’ postponement in an open letter on March 21, and Norway and Brazil’s national Olympic committees endorsed the same idea on March 20 and 21 respectively. Even President Donald Trump had asked for the Olympic Games to be postponed.

Escalating the pressure, Canada warned on Monday that it wouldn’t send its athletes to the Tokyo Olympics unless the Games were delayed until 2021.

The announcement to postpone comes as a relief to Canadian athletes like sprinter Andre De Grasse, who had trouble sleeping after hearing his country had pulled out due to coronavirus concerns. Mr. De Grasse was once a basketball point guard, but is now by many measures Canada's top sprinter, and is slated for a top spot at the Olympics now that Usain Bolt is no longer competing.

"It's going to be a bummer and a disappointment if the Olympics went on without us," said Mr. De Grasse, who has seven Olympic and world championship medals to his credit. 

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Material from Time magazine was used in this report. 

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