Olympics to be delayed a year to relief of athletes

The Tokyo Olympics now look set to take place in summer 2021

Sakura Murakami

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were yesterday postponed to 2021, the first such delay in the Games' 124-year modern history.

It means the coronavirus crisis has now wrecked the world's last sporting showpiece still standing this year.

Although a huge blow to Japan, which has invested €11bn in the run-up, the move was a relief to thousands of athletes fretting over training as the world headed into lockdown.

Pressure had been building on the International Olympic Committee and its president, Thomas Bach, with some athletes and sporting bodies angry that a seemingly inevitable decision had taken so long.

After a call between Mr Bach and Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, both said the Games, scheduled for July 24 to August 9, would move to summer 2021 at the latest.

The Olympic flame, already in Japan for a now-cancelled torch relay, would stay in the host nation as a symbol of hope.

"Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is. This Olympic flame will be the light at the end of this tunnel," Mr Bach said.

Although it is the first Olympics postponement, the Games were cancelled outright three times during the World Wars. Cold War boycotts also disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics in 1980 and 1984.

Athletes were disappointed but broadly endorsed the delay, given health risks and disruption to their training.

"I compete in a little bike race, which is nothing compared to what's going on in the world right now," said US Olympic BMX champion Connor Fields.

Many began focusing on next year's competition.

"We'll be more ready than ever in 2021 and wearing the maple leaf with more pride than I thought possible," said Canadian Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe, describing her feelings as "utter relief, excitement, uncertainty".


While 2021 looks crowded as the sport makes up for cancellations, World Athletics said it was willing to move its world championships, scheduled for August 6 to 15 next year to make way for the Olympics.

It was not clear if athletes who had already secured places for this summer - more than half of those due to compete - would need to qualify again.

It is not the first time a Japanese Olympics has been hit. The 1940 Summer and Winter Olympics were to be held in Japan but were cancelled because of World War Two.