Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed

March 25, 2020 - 12:41

Japan’s prime minister and the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Games by a year yesterday in an extraordinary move, unprecedented in peacetime, as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.

“I proposed to postpone for about a year and president Bach responded with 100% agreement,” Shinzo Abe told reporters referring to Thomas Bach, head of the IOC.

The move would be a devastating blow for the city of Tokyo, which had won widespread praise for its organization, with venues finished well ahead of time and tickets massively oversubscribed.

The Olympics, which has experienced boycotts, terrorist attacks and protests, but has been held every four years since 1948, would be the highest-profile event affected by the virus that has killed thousands and closed sports competitions worldwide.

The IOC has come under increasing pressure in recent days to postpone the Games, scheduled to start on July 24, with 1.7 billion people across the planet in lockdown to prevent the further spread of Covid-19.

Training has become impossible for many athletes and exposes them to the risk of contracting or spreading the disease. Competitions and qualifiers have been scrapped, while international travel is severely limited.

On Sunday, the IOC had initially given itself a deadline of four weeks to come up with a proposal to postpone the Games, a Herculean task that touches on every aspect of Tokyo 2020 planning from venues to security to ticketing.

But after Canada and Australia withdrew their teams and the powerful US Olympic Committee and World Athletics also joined the chorus calling for a postponement, the writing was on the wall for the July start.

Tokyo was spending some US$12.6 billion (RM54.68 billion) to host the Games, according to its latest budget, and experts believe a postponement could cost it some US$6 billion in the short-term before recouping it when they eventually go ahead.

It will also be a bitter blow to sponsors and major broadcasters who rely on the four-yearly extravaganza for critical advertising revenue.

It is not the first time Tokyo has seen unscheduled changes to the Games — it was due to be the first Asian country to host the Olympics in 1940 before pulling out due to international pressure over its war with China.

The IOC came under fire for taking so long to make its decision after other major events such as the European Football Championships already announced postponements.

British cyclist Callum Skinner had strongly criticized Bach, accusing him of placing his own interests first.

But Tokyo 2020 organizers point to the unparalleled complexity — not to mention cost — of shifting the Games. It is not even clear venues will be available and tens of thousands of hotel rooms will need to be cancelled and rebooked.

“It is mind-bogglingly complex to make a sudden change after seven years of preparation for the biggest sporting event in the world,” Michael Payne, the IOC’s former head of marketing, told AFP.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parson said the postponement was "the only logical option".

He added: "The health and wellbeing of human life must always be our number-one priority and staging a sporting event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible.

"Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is. It is essential, therefore, that all steps are taken to try to limit the spread of this disease.

"By taking this decision now, everyone involved in the Paralympic movement, including all Para-athletes, can fully focus on their own health and wellbeing and staying safe during this unprecedented and difficult time."

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