The rescheduled Tokyo Olympics will require sacrifices and compromises by all involved, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said yesterday, before predicting the completion of “a beautiful jigsaw puzzle and wonderful Olympic Games.”
“Our mission is to organize Games and make [the] dreams of athletes come true,” Bach said, adding that although the Olympics must be held before the end of summer next year, the as-yet-undecided dates would not necessarily be restricted to summer months.
Japanese yesterday awoke to the deflating reality that the Olympics they had hoped to host in Tokyo this summer were now probably 16 months away.
The IOC and the Japanese government finally succumbed on Tuesday to intense pressure from athletes and sporting bodies worldwide, when they agreed to postpone the Games until next year.
It was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested US$12 billion in preparations, but also for the prestige of the Olympic movement and Bach, who had come under fire for not reacting sooner in the face of the global health crisis.
An IOC coordination commission, which has been overseeing preparations, would now work toward determining a new date for next year amid a chaotic sports calendar, severely disrupted by the virus.
Japan Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita said that the decision had come earlier than he thought it would, but that he was determined the host nation’s athletes would be ready to compete next year.
“Now that the decisions have been made, let’s take this positively, reset our mindset,” Yamashita told a news conference. “With a fresh mind, not giving up, I want to go through this challenge heading into next year.”
Japanese government officials said that Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe had phoned US President Donald Trump to explain the postponement as they sought to further cushion the economy from the twin blows of the coronavirus and the delayed Games.
Tuesday’s decision came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at the newly built Japan National Stadium, which was to usher in the 16-day event featuring 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories.
The clock in front of Tokyo Station, which had been displaying the number of days until the Games, ceased its countdown and reverted to yesterday’s date and time.
Although 14 major corporations have indicated that they would remain in the IOC’s global partnership program despite the delay, local organizers might have some negotiating to do to retain their own Games-specific sponsors.
Tokyo Gas said that it would decide whether to continue sponsorship for another year depending on conditions, including cost.
“We don’t have an answer to whether or not we will continue our sponsorship, as we have just heard about the postponement,” Tokyo Gas president Takashi Uchida told a news conference on the company’s new business plans. “We will make a decision after we learn about details.”
Athletes worldwide, many struggling to train because of restrictions put in place to contain the virus, have expressed disappointment, but largely welcomed the decision.
Many other questions remain about the rearranged Games, not least when they will be held after the IOC announcement said only that they would take place “not before the end of summer 2021.”
Somewhere around this year’s original dates of July 24 to Aug. 9 looks most likely, especially after organizers confirmed that the marathon and race walks would remain in Hokkaido, where they were moved because of the sweltering Tokyo summer heat.
Those dates would require the shifting of other major events scheduled next year, in particular the Athletics World Championships in the US and the swimming equivalent in the Fukuoka, Japan.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has suggested that its championships in Eugene, Oregon, could be moved to 2022, while FINA said that it would discuss a rescheduling of its event with Tokyo organizers and the IOC.
The Olympic flame, already lit at Olympia in Greece and taken to Japan for a now-canceled torch relay, is to stay in the host nation and the Games would retain the title “Tokyo 2020.”
“This Olympic flame will be the light at the end of this tunnel,” Bach said on Tuesday.
US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart raised the prospect that postponement might open the door for convicted drug cheats to compete for medals, an issue he told reporters would need to be tackled.
The 57 percent of athletes who had already booked spots in Tokyo face a wait to discover whether they will have to qualify again, although Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll said that they would not.
US athletes in the major sports of athletics, swimming and gymnastics had more clarity, with their national federations announcing that Olympic trials would be held next year.
For some athletes, an extra 12 months might be too long and 38-year-old Swiss Nicola Spirig, who won triathlon gold at the 2012 London Olympics, said that she would be considering her options.
“I am ... glad to have clarity now and fully support the IOC’s decision, [but] as far as my sporting future is concerned, the decision obviously has an impact,” the four-time Olympian said on Instagram.
For others, including Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori and Olympic sprint champion Wayde van Niekerk, it would provide extra time to get fit for the Games after injury setbacks.
“This gives me more time to work and strengthen myself to be in even better shape for the Olympic Games,” Van Niekerk, whose world record run in the 400m final was one of highlights of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, told South Africa’s Daily Maverick. “As much as it is a downer that it’s not happening this year, it will still happen.”
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