The International Olympic Committee and the host government of Japan announced March 24 to postpone Tokyo 2020. This is the first cancellation in modern Olympics history due to a global health crisis, but the games were canceled three times during World War I and World War II, and there were notable boycotts in 1980 and 1984.
Organizers of multi-billion dollar event were left with increasingly fewer options as the COVID-19 virus spread to 160 countries, shuttering cities and killing thousands as it increases in scope. This, and the inability for 11,000 athletes to properly train and compete for spots on national teams, made postponement inevitable.
A growing criticism ends with the U.S. team’s decision
In the days leading up to the March 24 announcement, officials and athletes began to more forcefully call for the IOC and Japanese government to make their decision. Athletes began to take a stand regarding the delay. Officials from Canada and then Australia’s Olympic teams announced they would not attend games that began on the scheduled July 24 date. The powerful U.S. track and field, swimming and gymnastics federations all urged the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to oppose the planned start, which it did eventually.
“This summer was supposed to be a culmination of your hard work and life’s dream, but taking a step back from competition to care for our communities and each other is the right thing to do,” USOPC chief executive officer Sarah Hirshland wrote to athletes after Tuesday’s decision. “Your moment will wait until we can gather again safely.”
A major financial hit
Japan spent an estimated 28 billion dollars to host the Olympic Games. The loss of the games in 2020 likely will mean a 1.4% reduction in Japan’s domestic product growth for the year. The government is encouraging Japanese residents to continue to purchase the 7.8 million tickets available for the Games.
No new date
Organizers claim that the Olympic Games, which will still be called Tokyo 2020, will not be held in 2020, but will be held no later than the end of 2021. But first, life will have to return to normal, or a new normal, where athletes can train and compete in the run-up to the Games. Some say spring 2021 would be ideal with the country’s famous cherry blossoms, but no one knows if the athletes and the world will be ready by then. It should be noted that this is only a year or so delay, but there is no doubt this change in schedule means the end of a dream for some to compete in the Olympics.
The postponement will also lead to a myriad of legal issues for athletes, the International Olympic Committee, the various National Olympic Committees, Olympic sponsors, and Olympic broadcasters.