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The decision was announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday after Japanese officials held a conference call with the International Olympic Committee.
“I proposed to postpone for about a year and [IOC] president Thomas Bach responded with 100 percent agreement,” Abe said. “This will make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition, and will make the event a safe and secure one for spectators.”
Abe said that the games would be pushed back to 2021 “at the latest.” A one-year delay will also be implemented for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
The decision ends weeks of speculation about the event’s future in the wake of the virus’ rapid spread across the globe. In recent weeks the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation or postponement of multiple international sporting events, and has halted games and tournaments for major leagues in multiple countries. In the United States, the NBA, NHL, and MLB have all altered their respective seasons and canceled games to prevent the spread of the virus.
Pro cycling has not been spared either, with major events such as Milano-Sanremo, the Giro d’Italia, and Paris-Roubaix all being halted.
But before Tuesday’s announcement, there was lingering speculation that the 2020 Olympics could continue. The games were slated to be held July 22 through August 9, with the Paralympics running August 25 through September 6.
The IOC was curiously silent about the future of the games in the past week, prompting several international governing bodies to release statements of their own on the future of the event. On March 22 the national Olympic committees from Canada and Australia said they would not send athletes to the summer games. In the United States, three major national governing bodies USA Swimming, USA Track and Field, and USA Gymnastics all released statements asking the IOC to push back the games.
Late on Monday, the U.S. Olympic Committee urged the IOC to postpone the Olympics, however the American federation did not officially withdraw.
Officials with the IOC were quiet about the decision, however signs began to appear on Monday that a decision was looming. On Monday Canadian IOC official Dick Pound told USA Today that the games would be postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To safeguard the health of the athletes and everyone involved in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will now take place no later than summer 2021.
— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) March 24, 2020
The decision has a major impact on dozens of American cyclists who were hoping to qualify for the games. USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body, was set to spend this spring deciding which athletes would attend the events based on predetermined qualification standards for road, track, mountain biking, and BMX competition.
The postponement is likely to put those decisions on hold.
Earlier in March, the World Health Organization met with medical advisors from international sporting federations that oversee Olympic events to discuss options which included the possibility of holding the Games without spectators. Ultimately, the decision was made to delay the Games to help ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic can be brought under control.
The Olympics have not been canceled, nor postponed, since World War II. Tokyo was supposed to host the Summer Games in 1940 but had to bow out after it went to war with China. The Games were then awarded to Helsinki, Finland, but were canceled after the outbreak of WWII. Helsinki ultimately hosted the 1952 Summer Games, and Tokyo in 1964.
Paris is set to host the Summer Olympics in 2024, and Los Angeles in 2028.