The International Olympic Committee announced Sunday it will decide within four weeks whether to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
After officials said for weeks the Games would go off as planned — and amid pressure from various countries and governing bodies to reconsider that stance — it’s the first time the IOC is publicly admitting it will entertain the possibility of postponement.
“The IOC will, in full coordination and partnership with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, start detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement,” a statement from the committee said. “The IOC is confident that it will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks, and greatly appreciates the solidarity and partnership of the NOCs and IFs in supporting the athletes and adapting Games planning.”
The statement added that an outright cancellation of the Games “would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda.” The Olympics have not been canceled since 1944 due to World War II.
BBC News reported that a “scaled-down” version of the Olympics is another option on the table for the IOC.
The pandemic, which has infected more than 325,000 people and killed more than 14,000 worldwide, has led to lockdowns and quarantines in major countries around the world. Almost all major sports have been suspended.
“There is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents,” the IOC statement said. “This led the (executive board) to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning.”
On Friday, USA Swimming and USA Track and Field sent letters to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, urging it to request that the 2020 Games be delayed. The Olympic federations of Brazil, Norway and Slovenia already have called on the IOC to do the same.
“Our clear recommendation is that the Olympic Games in Tokyo shall not take place before the COVID-19 situation is under firm control on a global scale,” Norway’s federation wrote in a letter to Bach.
Bach released a letter of his own addressing the Olympic athletes of the world, promising that “human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games.”
Bach wrote that, “contrary to other sports events,” postponing the Summer Games would be a gargantuan task.
“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore,” he wrote. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”
The IOC’s statement also pointed out the “significant improvements” in the host nation of Japan, where new COVID-19 cases slowed down and only recently surpassed 1,000.
“This could strengthen the IOC’s confidence in the Japanese hosts that the IOC could, with certain safety restrictions, organize Olympic Games in the country whilst respecting its principle of safeguarding the health of everyone involved,” the statement said.
Sports across Asia, Europe and North America have been disrupted by COVID-19 — everything from Premier League soccer to March Madness and the start of the Major League Baseball season — as world health officials advise people not to congregate groups in an effort to contain the virus.
NBC Sports, the sole Olympics broadcast rights-holder in the U.S., gave a statement to Variety saying it fully supported the IOC’s decision.
“We are prepared to stand behind any decision made by the IOC, the Japanese government, and the world health officials with whom they are working regarding the Tokyo Olympics,” NBC’s statement said.
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