Olympic Games postponed until 2021 as coronavirus pandemic accelerates

By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
PA Media: Sport

The Olympic Games, the greatest sporting show on Earth, has been put back to 2021 as the world works to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.

The International Olympic Committee, Tokyo 2020 organisers and the Japanese government finally bowed to the inevitable on Tuesday and confirmed that the Olympics and Paralympics will now be held in 2021, in the summertime of that year at the latest.

It brings an end to speculation which has shrouded the Games since the initial Covid-19 outbreak in China at the turn of the year, with the pressure from national Olympic committees and international sports federations to postpone having mounted on a daily basis as the virus spread from continent to continent, and city to city.

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Postponement instead of cancellation means the cost implications for the IOC and the local organisers will be significant but manageable, as broadcasters and sponsors instead gear up for what they hope will be humanity’s great coming out party in 2021.

The decision to delay was finally taken at a conference call on Tuesday, following a World Health Organisation update that the pandemic was “accelerating”.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC president and the prime minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” read a joint statement from the IOC and Tokyo 2020.

IOC president Thomas Bach faced criticism for the time it had taken to announce a postponement (Mike Egerton/PA)
IOC president Thomas Bach faced criticism for the time it had taken to announce a postponement (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

The decision was welcomed by international federations and national Olympic committees across the world, many of whom, the British Olympic Association included, had been prepared to stand down their athletes from training anyway for their own safety had the IOC not acted.

BOA chief executive Andy Anson said Team GB’s preparation’s had been “compromised irreparably” by social distancing measures in the UK, which were further tightened on Monday night, and he said the IOC’s decision was the right one.

“We have incredible sympathy for the Tokyo 2020 organising committee and indeed our colleagues at the IOC, who are working tirelessly to seek a positive outcome to this difficult scenario,” he said.

“The Olympic Games is a symbol of hope for us all and we are sure that we will be in Tokyo at the right and appropriate time as the world re-emerges from this dark period.”

Funding for sports governing bodies from the Exchequer and the National Lottery is tied into Olympic cycles, and in the normal run of things a new UK Sport funding cycle would begin from the start of April 2021.

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday (Steve Parsons/PA)
UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday (Steve Parsons/PA)

The decision to postpone means a workaround will be needed, which UK Sport will discuss in the coming weeks and months with the summer Olympic and Paralympic sports bodies.

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday said: “I’d like to take the opportunity to reassure sports that our guidance from last week remains in place that we will not seek to recover any financial performance investment or Athlete Performance Awards due to disruption caused by COVID-19.

“We also realise that today’s decision has significant financial implications for our high performance system and we are working hard to identify the wide-ranging impacts and scenarios and are in close contact with government to establish how best to support our summer Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes to be ready for the Games when they do take place.”

Double Olympic taekwondo champion Jade Jones spoke of her “devastation” upon hearing the news, while swimmer Adam Peaty admitted: “This is a matter of life or death and we all need to do the right thing.”

Jones told the PA news agency: “I’m truly gutted – you give your heart and soul to something for four years then for it not to go ahead is just horrible.

“Obviously health comes first, and my biggest priority right now is protecting my family and my loved ones, and doing everything I can do to help save the lives of others.

“But as an elite athlete, it is very demotivating and mentally tough. I’m a very positive person but the idea, right now, of having to devote myself to another year’s slog is a very difficult one.”

Elsewhere, this season’s European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup semi-finals and finals have been postponed.

Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby reconfirmed the suspension of this season’s tournaments.

Premier League Darts has announced that three more nights of action have been postponed.

The events in Manchester, Berlin and Birmingham, originally scheduled for April 16, 23 and 30, will now take place on September 24, September 3 and July 30 respectively.

The McLaren staff quarantined in Australia are set to arrive back home within the next 48 hours.

Sixteen members of the British team spent a fortnight in self-isolation in Melbourne after one of their colleagues contracted coronavirus.

The infected individual, a British mechanic, was reported by McLaren to be symptom-free last week, and it is understood that he has already returned to the UK.

League One Portsmouth announced a fifth player had tested positive for coronavirus, with Ross McCrorie joining James Bolton, Andy Cannon, Haji Mnoga and Sean Raggett.

British Athletics announced the suspension of all athletics activity within the UK had been extended to May 31.

In Germany, football’s governing body the DFL confirmed the executive committee will recommend a further suspension of match operations in both top divisions until at least April 30.

The Rugby Football League, meanwhile, confirmed there will be no resumption of fixtures in the foreseeable future, having imposed a three-week shutdown from March 16 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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