Across the world, people are hunkered down in their homes, avoiding large groups, in order to stem the spread of the advancing coronavirus pandemic. In many countries, the United States included, professional and amateur sports events are canceled until further notice, with few exceptions.
Holding the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, as originally planned, would have brought tens of thousands of people, including spectators, athletes, journalists, and hundreds of support people, into a densely-populated city that has been battling the deadly pandemic.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound said Monday that that’s not an option for the organizers of this summer’s Games.
“The Games are not going to start on July 24 [2020, as originally planned], that much I know,” he said.
Moving the games to a date a year in the future will be a massive undertaking that will require coordination of Tokyo and Japanese officials, Olympic committees in multiple countries, and multiple people and organizations that have already invested billions of dollars, to say nothing of their time and effort, into the games Tokyo expected to hold in 2020, not 2021.
Pound said that work will be done in stages.
“We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense,” he says.
As recently as Sunday, IOC President Thomas Bach had said that he would be deciding the fate of the 2020 Games “in the next four weeks.” Bach had been steadfast that the games would not be canceled.
However, quite a bit changed since Bach’s announcement on Sunday, which may have forced his hand. Canada completely pulled out of the Games, while Australian Olympic officials, while not saying directly that they would pull their athletes out of the event, indirectly warned that “an Australian team could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad.”
By Monday morning, Olympic officials in Germany, Brazil, and Norway, among other countries, had publicly called on Bach to cancel or postpone the Games.
Indeed, it may have been that pressure from outside of Tokyo that compelled Bach to take this step. At least, that’s the conclusion drawn by USA Today writer Hemal Jhaveri in a companion op-ed piece.
“It’s ridiculous that the IOC waited until countries started dropping out en masse to announce the decision,” Jhaveri writes.
Jhaveri also notes that this decision will no doubt be a “crushing blow” to the athletes gearing up for the event, but that it “couldn’t be avoided.”