TOKYO 2021

Japan is starting to accept the coronavirus has crushed its Olympic dreams

Maybe later.
Maybe later.
Image: Reuters/Issei Kato
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Update: Japan will soon inform the International Olympic Committee that it would accept a postponement of the 2020 Tokyo games, according to Kyodo News.

After weeks of insisting that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go on planned even as the global coronavirus pandemic continued to spread at an alarming rate, Japan today finally acknowledged what many had already long accepted: July’s games will have to be postponed.

Addressing parliament today, prime minister Shinzo Abe said that if the games cannot be held in “a complete form”—with spectators in the stands, for example—”we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to [the health of the] athletes.” He added that cancellation is not an option.

Abe’s remarks came shortly before Canada announced that they would not be sending athletes to Tokyo this summer due to the risks posed by Covid-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. “This is not solely about athlete health – it is about public health,” the committee said in a statement, explaining that it was not safe for the athletes, their families, and the broader Canadian community to continue training towards the games. “In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow.”

In a statement today, the Australian Olympic Committee also told its athletes to prepare for the games to be delayed until 2021, noting that the Australian team “could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad.”

Pressure mounted over the weekend on Olympics organizers, as more national teams joined calls for the games to be pushed back. In a letter on Friday (Mar. 20)—the same day that the Olympic torch arrived in Japan— USA Swimming urged the country’s Olympics committee to advocate for a delay, and USA Track and Field quickly followed with a similar statement. Slovenia has also called for the games to be postponed, as have Norway and Brazil. Meanwhile, German former world champion fencer Max Hartung, who leads his country’s Olympic committee’s athletes’ commission, said on Saturday (Mar. 21) that he would boycott the Tokyo Olympics for the safety of other athletes.

In an emergency meeting yesterday, the International Olympic Committee said it is starting discussions on a possible postponement of this summer’s games, and set a deadline for a final decision within four weeks. The committee said it would look at “different scenarios,” but that an outright cancellation was not on the cards. It marks a sharp U-turn from just a few days ago, when the IOC dismissed the need for “drastic decisions” and said there were no plans to postpone the games.