2020 Olympics Postponement 'the Right Decision,' Athletes Say

Athletes around the world praised the International Olympic Committee decision to postpone this summer's Olympic Games until next year in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Tokyo was due to host the Olympics between July 24 and August 9, but on Tuesday the IOC and organizers took the unprecedented decision of postponing the Games until next year.

With the exception of the two world wars, the Olympics have never been canceled since they began in their modern guise in 1896 and this is their first postponement.

Despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizing committee had repeatedly insisted the Games would go ahead as planned this summer. The stance, however, changed swiftly over the past two days amid mounting criticism from athletes and a number of national Olympic committees. On Tuesday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a conference call with IOC President Thomas Bach and the duo officially agree to a postponement, with the Games now scheduled to be held by the summer of next year.

"We agreed that a postponement would be the best way to ensure that the athletes are in peak condition when they compete and to guarantee the safety of the spectators," Abe told reporters after speaking with Bach.

In a joint statement, the IOC and Tokyo organizing committee said the Games "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."

The decision was welcomed by athletes and Olympic committees. Four-time Olympic gold medalist and IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser said the postponement was the "best case scenario given the circumstances", a sentiment echoed by U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) CEO Sarah Hirshland.

Very happy to hear @Tokyo2020 moved to 2021. Best case scenario given the circumstances. The message athletes deserved to hear. To all the athletes: take a breath, regroup, take care of yourself and your families. Your time will come. #tokyo2021

— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) March 24, 2020

"This summer was supposed to be a culmination of your hard work and life's dream, but taking a step back from competition to care for our communities and each other is the right thing to do," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Your moment will wait until we can gather again safely."

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added: "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."

Greece's reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, who has been among the strongest critics of the IOC in recent days, suggested athletes would be just as prepared in 2021 as they would have been this summer.

Britain's Dina Asher-Smith, the reigning 200-meter world champion, also welcomed the postponement.

Same desire, same goals, new year #Tokyo2021
Ίδιοι στόχοι, νέα χρονιά! #nike #stoiximan #toyota #elpe #nbg #tempur #visa #lorvenn #seventeen pic.twitter.com/ymkscjpW6U

— Katerina Stefanidi (@KatStefanidi) March 24, 2020

♥️ #Tokyo2021 https://t.co/ACza8h8qxG

— Dina Asher-Smith (@dinaashersmith) March 24, 2020

On Sunday, the IOC Executive Board gave itself a four-week deadline to make a decision, but the scenario evolved rapidly. On the same day Canada became the first country to indicate it would not send its athletes to Tokyo if the Games went ahead this summer, while Australia told its athletes to get ready for the Olympics to be held in 2021.

A day later, the U.S. Olympic Committee threw its considerable weight behind the motion, with its New Zealand counterpart following suit.

Over the past couple of weeks, the national Olympic committees of Norway, Brazil and Slovenia all called for the Games to be moved to 2021, as did the World Athletics Federation, USA Swimming and USA Track and Field.

Once the postponement became official, a host of Olympic committees echoed USOC's stance.

"It is with profound sadness that we accept the postponement, but in all consciousness it is the only decision we can support, in light of the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on our nation, our communities and our families," Andy Andson, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, said in a statement.

"It is time for them to stop thinking about Tokyo 2020 for now and be home and safe with their families."

Alfons Hormann, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, struck a similar tone.

"The now quick and clear decision to postpone the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a correct and enormously important step for international sport and the entire world community," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"It confirms to the world population that everything in sports is also being done to bring the global pandemic under control as best as possible and as soon as possible."

His Spanish counterpart, Alejandro Blanco, described the IOC's decision as "good news," suggesting it would guarantee a level playing field next year.

"The IOC has given us some good news by announcing that the Olympic Games will be postponed," he said in a statement.

"It will allow all athletes to be able to compete in equal conditions and will safeguard their health, just as we have been demanding since this crisis began."

On Monday, Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, told USA Today that the Olympics were almost certain to be postponed.

"On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided," he was quoted as saying, indicating the decision had been made when the IOC Executive Board met on Sunday.

"The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know."

Earlier in the day both Abe and Tokyo organizing committee chief Yoshiro Mori conceded the financial hit of postponing the Games was a major issue for both the IOC and Tokyo's organizing body.

It was a significant shift in dynamic, as publicly at least, both Tokyo 2020 organizers and the IOC had steadfastly refused to entertain the possibility of moving the Games. Eventually, however, the decision to postpone the Games was taken and organizers and the IOC will now face a huge logistical and financial challenge over the next 12 months.

According to official figures, Japan has committed 1.45 trillion yen ($13.4 billion) to organizing the Olympics, with $277 million alone spent on building a new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

"The canceling of the games would be a serious blow to the Japanese economy, however a suspension to next year would help cushion the blow," Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, told Newsweek before the announcement was made.

"Even if the Olympic Games is deferred until next year, there is likely to be an economic impact in terms of fewer visitors due to higher global unemployment rate as a result of the economic impact of the current crisis.

"There may also be a reluctance to travel to the region due to concerns about the proximity of China, and any residual effects from the virus."

Tokyo 2020, coronavirus
The sun sets behind the Olympic rings at Odaiba Marine Park on March 18 in Tokyo, Japan. Clive Rose/Getty