Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will propose a one-year postponement for the Tokyo Olympics during talks with IOC president, Thomas Bach.
Abe said a postponement is unavoidable if the 2020 Games cannot be held in a complete manner amid the coronavirus pandemic. Abe held telephone talks with Bach after the IOC said it would make a decision on the Tokyo Games over the next four weeks.
Until just a few days ago the IOC, along with the Tokyo organising committee and the Japanese government, had insisted there were no plans to delay the Olympics given they were not due to open for another four months but Japan’s NHK public television reported on Tuesday that Abe wants a one-year delay.
Tokyo 2020’s fate was effectively sealed this week when Canada and Australia said they would not send athletes to Japan in July, while the British and French governments urged the IOC to make a quick decision.
“I know this is heartbreaking for so many people, athletes, coaches, staff and fans but this was absolutely the right call and everyone should follow their lead,” the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said.
The US Olympic and Paralympic committee followed suit, citing the “enormous” disruption the pandemic had caused to training and the qualification process.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the committee said in a statement.
World Athletics, the Olympic committees of Brazil, Slovenia and Germany, USA Swimming, USA Track and Field had joined the growing chorus of calls for a new date for the event.
The head of health and safety for London 2012, Lawrence Waterman, had urged the IOC to postpone the Games for the first time in their 124-year modern history, saying they could not be held safely this year.
“These Games need to be postponed, and the sooner the IOC and the Japanese government face up to this the better. It’s simply not safe to put the games on during a global pandemic,” Waterman said in a statement.
“People’s safety and health should come before the costs of delaying contracts. The London Games were the first in history to be completed without a single fatality, we set the standard on health and safety at the Olympics.”
The Olympics have never before been delayed, but were cancelled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars.
Speculation that an announcement was imminent rose on Monday when the IOC member Dick Pound claimed the body had decided to postpone the Olympics for a year, describing it as the most likely solution to the Olympic movement’s biggest crisis since the politically motivated boycotts of Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles four years later. “That’s my conclusion,” Pound told Reuters.
Pound said the IOC had not rushed to an announcement so that it could present the Japanese hosts, sports federations and sponsors with a clear alternative plan.
“Probably what turned the tide in the last couple of days is the curve on the Covid-19 virus. It is getting very, very steep now and this is clearly not something that is going to be under control by June or July and probably not by the end of the year,” he said.
The Nikkei, a Japanese business daily, claimed on Monday that G7 leaders had agreed to a postponement during their teleconference last week, after Abe persuaded them that cancellation was not an option.
Abe told the group that he was determined to hold the Games “in their complete form” – with the full quota of athletes and spectators – as a symbol of the world’s triumph over the coronavirus, the Nikkei said. Boris Johnson reportedly responded with a thumbs-up, while other leaders nodded their approval.
Abe this week hinted that postponement was a possibility, hours after the IOC said it could take up to four weeks to decide the fate of the Games.
“If the IOC’s decision means it becomes impossible to hold the Olympics in their complete form, then a decision may have to be made to postpone them,” he told parliament on Monday.
The Japanese public had already accepted the inevitable. According to a Kyodo news poll last week, almost 70% of respondents said they did not expect the Games to go ahead this summer.