For thousands of athletes around the world, it would have once been considered a nightmare scenario.
And on Tuesday, it became official.
In an unprecedented and unavoidable turn, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese government agreed to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics “to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021” due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
It is the first time in modern Olympic history that a global health issue has disrupted the Games.
“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times,” the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said in a joint statement. “And that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.”
Organizers said the Olympic flame will stay in Japan during the delay, and the Games will also continue to formally be called “Tokyo 2020,” even as they move to 2021.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach formally agreed to the decision Tuesday, amid intensifying pressure and public pleas for clarity from athletes and governing bodies alike.
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While the Olympics have previously been canceled during periods of war, and complicated by boycotts, this is the first time they have ever been suspended.
It is not immediately clear whether the Games will be moved to the summer of 2021 or the spring, when Japan’s famous cherry blossoms are in bloom.
“A lot can happen in one year,” stated Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee. “So we have to think about what we have to do.”
The decision to move the multi-billion dollar event will have widespread political, legal, logistical and financial ramifications, both locally in Japan and around the world.
It also figures to cause headaches and heartaches across the international sports community — for federations and leagues that must now adapt their schedules, and for the 11,000 athletes who had spent years training to compete this summer.
Beyond finances, this decision will also cause substantial disruptions for athletes, many of whom have put off college or other opportunities to train full-time with the objective of peaking in July. Now, they will have to put their training on hold. Some might be forced to give them up altogether — their Olympic dreams dashed, a nightmare come true.
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