As sports and athletics organizations around the world cancel competitions and events in light of COVID-19, officials with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo 2020 Games had resisted calls to delay this summer’s opening ceremony. However, the decision has finally been made to postpone. 

A woman wearing a face mask walks past the Olympic rings in front of the new National Stadium, the main stadium for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, on February 26, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Concerns that the Tokyo Olympics may be postponed or cancelled are increasing as Japan confirms 862 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and as some professional sporting contests are being called off or rescheduled
In an interview, one member of the IOC declared that the Olympics would not go forward as planned this summer © Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

On Monday, one IOC member stated in an interview that he did not think the Games would go ahead as planned.  “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Canadian IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today in an interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Pound's statements came one day after the IOC announced that a decision would be made regarding the fate of the Olympics within the next four weeks, and just hours after Canada and Australia announced that they wouldn’t be sending athletes to compete if the Games went ahead as planned. However, on Tuesday, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the IOC agreed to a one-year postponement of the Games. 

The prime minister's office then Tweeted that the decision to postponed had been agreed upon with IOC President Thomas Bach. The IOC said in a statement: "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". 

An athlete carries the olympic torch during one of the last relays ahead of during the olympic flame handover ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, on March 19, 2020 in Athens. The ceremony is held behind closed doors as a preventive measure against the spread of the Covid-19 caused by the novel Coronavirus.
The Athens leg of the Olympic torch relay was held behind closed doors on March 19 due to coronavirus concerns © ARIS MESSINIS / AFP / Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As Lonely Planet reported earlier this month, the decision to cancel or postpone would be a costly one for Japan – the country has already spent an estimated $26bn in the ramp-up to the Games. But it wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. The Summer Games were called off in 1916, during World War I, and during World War II, both the Summer and Winter games were called off in 1940 and 1944, respectively. 

Olympic Rings in front of the Japan Olympic Museum in Shinjuku
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were one of the last major events to capitulate to the spread of COVID-19  © Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In lieu of total cancelation or postponement, the idea of proceeding behind closed doors had also been bandied about, but the loss of revenue from ticket sales and the atmosphere thousands of cheering fans provide would be sorely missed – not to mention the health risks involved, and the fact that athletes are struggling to properly prepare for the competition, given the current directive in many places to practice social distancing. 

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This article was published on 23 March and updated on 24 March. 

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