Tokyo Olympics 2020: Games officially postponed until 2021, challenges aplenty for IOC, organisers
The decision to postpone the Olympics eases pressure on the organisers, the IOC and athletes but still holds plenty of concerns.
For the first time in Olympic history, a Summer Games have been postponed. Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for 24 July - 9 August, have been officially postponed until 2021, it was announced following a conference call between Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.
Also present for the meeting were Mori Yoshiro, the President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee; the Olympic Minister, Hashimoto Seiko; the Governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko; the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission, John Coates; IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper; and the IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, Christophe Dubi.
"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," said an IOC statement.
"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. 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 statement went on to add.
Olympics have never been delayed in their 124-year modern history, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars. Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984.
In a media briefing that followed, Abe said Bach has agreed “100%” to his proposal of postponing the Tokyo Olympics. This is a quick reversal from the IOC who had said on Sunday that a decision on the fate of the Olympics would be taken in next four weeks.
Both the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be held in the summer of 2021 at the latest. Abe went on to add that 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 organisers said the torch relay would start as planned on Thursday. Those plans also changed. “For the time being, the flame will be stored and displayed in Fukushima,” Mori said.
The decision to postpone the Olympics eases pressure on the organisers, the IOC and athletes but still holds plenty of concerns. Japan, who have invested $12 billion in the run-up, the decision will be a major blow. But despite their disappointment, not to mention the logistical headaches and financial losses coming, a poll showed about 70% of Japanese agreed with a delay.
Holders of tickets have been made to make an anxious wait following media reports they might not get a refund in case of a postponement or cancellation.
Tokyo 2020 haven’t confirmed how many tickets have been sold but in the bidding process, organisers said over seven million seats would be available. All domestic tickets for the Olympics have been sold, according to organisers.
In the most recent Games budget from December 2019, organisers said $800 million had been raised through ticket sales.
Last week, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported tickets might not be refundable, citing Olympic organisers and contractual details connected to the tickets.
Single tickets for the closing ceremony have reportedly gone for 220,000 yen ($1990).
When previously contacted about ticket refunds, Tokyo 2020 organisers said they were monitoring the situation.
“The terms and conditions do not state that ‘tickets cannot be refunded’, so the article is not accurate,” Tokyo 2020 organisers said.
By sticking to the Games being called as Tokyo 2020 even if they take place in 2021, the authorities have dealt with a gigantic rebranding headache.
As it appeared, vendors of a vast array of Tokyo 2020-themed trinkets were looking to cash in from the postponement of the Games by marketing their items as emblems of something that never happened instead.
Branded items, from $6 pin badges to $15,000 pieces of gold are on offer to enthusiasts, but with the push to dates, sellers are hoping to seize on the disruption to boost demand.
In shopping districts across the capital, Tokyo 2020 flags flutter from street lights, while an oversized clock in front of the red-brick Tokyo Station counts down the days to 24 July.
Items that were up for trade included baseball caps from Lehman Brothers, whose collapse kickstarted a global crisis, and paperweights from failed energy firm Enron Corp, offered online for tens, or even hundreds of dollars.
Arguably the biggest concern for the Olympics stemmed from the athletes who couldn't practice or train as they would have liked even if the Games went on as planned.
Athletes were sad but relieved after weeks of worrying and struggling to train as the world headed into virtual lockdown from the disease.
“I compete in a little bike race, which is nothing compared to what is going on in the world right now,” American Olympic BMX champion Connor Fields said. “No sport is more important if it means more people might potentially die from this.”
“To be honest, I’m left reeling and feeling a little lost. But the goal posts haven’t disappeared - just shifted. It’s time to recalibrate and fire up for the next challenge,” said Australia’s two-time Olympic champion swimmer, Cate Campbell.
“I have ridden not just a rollercoaster but the entire theme park of emotions,” Keesja Gofers, part of the Australian women’s water polo team, said on Instagram. “I am relieved. Athletes around the world will now have the chance at a proper preparation and the Olympics can, on whatever date they are held, continue to be a coming together of the world’s best at their best.”
US skateboarder and gold medal hopeful Nyjah Huston was frustrated, though, especially given his sport was scheduled to make its debut at the Tokyo. “When skating finally makes it in the Olympics then it gets postponed,” the 25-year-old wrote on Instagram, after a delay had begun to look inevitable. “I was feelin (sic) ready too ... now I’m going to have to be a year older for this!”
Twice Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, is among athletes unable to train due to social distancing and closure of facilities. “There is no sandpit for me, I have not put on jump spikes for two weeks,” he told Britain’s Times newspaper.
Besides athletes, pressure mounted on the IOC with Canada, Australia opting out if the Games went ahead with Britain likely to follow suit. US Olympic and Paralympic Committee alongside New Zealand were the latest to put their weight behind the idea of pushing the games.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the USOPC said in a statement on Monday.
The United States is by far the most successful nation in the history of the modern Summer Games, while the rights deal with American broadcaster NBC to televise the Olympics represents from 50% to 70% of the IOC’s total annual revenues.
It was not yet clear whether the 57 percent of athletes who had already secured spots in Tokyo would need to qualify again for the re-arranged Olympics. Additionally, each sport has specific qualification criteria which goes around for a four year circle. With the games getting pushed, will the same qualifying criteria apply.
Another factor that needs consideration is of athletes whose suspension due to doping comes to an end this year. It remains unclear if they become eligible for 2021 provided they meet the sport's qualifying criteria.
(with inputs from Reuters)
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