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Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics Officially Postponed Due To Coronavirus

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Toplines: After a slew of calls to postpone due to the risks of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, Japan and the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday announced it would delay the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics until 2021, making it the first time the Games have been moved outside of World War I and II.

  • Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had agreed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to delay the world’s biggest sporting event until next year. “I proposed to postpone for about a year and IOC president Thomas Bach responded with 100% agreement,” Abe said.
  • Speculation that the Olympics would be postponed escalated on Monday after Abe said, “If it is difficult to hold the games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to the well-being of the athletes.”
  • Senior IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today that “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided… The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
  • It’s a move that was widely expected given the hundreds of conferences, festivals and sporting events affected by the pandemic across the globe, as well as mounting criticism levied at the IOC and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by players and fans, the latter of which voted overwhelmingly in a public poll conducted by Kyodo News to delay the Games.
  • Much of the criticism wasn’t focused on the possible safety of the event itself, which was set to begin on July 24 until August 9, but the risk to athletes presently as they attempted to train for the Games while adhering to lockdowns and social distancing practices in their home countries.
  • On March 18, the IOC held a conference call with 200 athlete representatives that caused further ire, with Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco saying there would be unfair competition given the training gym shut downs in certain countries, and U.S. table tennis player Han Xiao saying, “Regardless of their intentions, their first priority is not the public health aspect of it,” according to the New York Times.
  • Adding fuel to the fire this month: Kozo Tashima, the vice chairman of Japan’s Olympic Committee and the head of the Japan Football Association, tested positive for the coronavirus following trips to Europe and the U.S., Greece’s Olympic committee barred fans from attending the traditional torch lighting ceremony and Canada pulled out of the Games this past weekend.

Crucial Quote: In late February, a senior official told Reuters that Japan essentially had no backup plan, saying “We are not even thinking of when or in what contingency we might decide things. There is no thought of change at all in my mind.”

Big Number: $12.6 billion to $25.2 billion. That’s the estimated investment the city of Tokyo has made in the event and will have to swallow during a delay before recouping any revenue from the Summer Olympics, according to CBS. Sponsors additionally will take a financial blow, though, one of its biggest broadcasters, Discovery Inc., told investors in February that it was insured against a cancellation and that it wouldn’t hit the company particularly hard. NBCUniversal as well assured investors it had insurance, but it also would lose profit from the already $1.25 billion it’s sold in advertising, signing a $7.7 billion U.S. broadcasting deal for the Games until 2032, according to the New York Times. The Olympics is the largest spectator event affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, with the 2016 Games in Brazil selling 6.2 million tickets.

Key BackgroundAccording to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 392,000 total confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 17,000 deaths worldwide. In Japan in particular, there are 1,140 cases with 42 confirmed deaths.

Tangent: The Olympic Games are among the athletic world’s most storied events. First held in 776 BCE, the Games were revived in the modern era in 1896, when the Games were held in Athens, Greece. The 1916 Games were cancelled because of World War I, as were the 1940 and 1944 Games due to World War II.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Innovation

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