Why the IOC and Japan agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympics

Olympic leaders had bought weeks to look at the spread of the coronavirus, hoping for signs of improvement, while stubbornly insisting that the 2020 summer games go according to plan.

The numbers looked promising in host city Tokyo, but on Sunday morning a new batch of statistics brought the International Olympic Committee’s attention.

COVID-19 shot across Africa.

“This was a major concern for me personally,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “With the challenges many countries in Africa are already facing, this would be a very dramatic development that would affect not only Africa, but the entire world.”

That was when the hardline of the IOC began to soften, triggering a series of events that within a staggering 48 hours caused officials to announce that the Tokyo Games would be postponed until next year.

“This situation changed very quickly,” said Bach. “Our doubts grew that the world would be ready for these Olympics.”

The organizers of the IOC and Tokyo 2020 have formed a task force to find the heavy lifting to find a new date for the mass competition by the summer of 2021 at the latest.

The final decision requires the cooperation of a maze of broadcasters, corporate sponsors and 33 international federations that master every sport. Although officials have vowed to make a decision as soon as possible, Bach acknowledged that they are faced with a “huge puzzle”.

During a conference call Wednesday, the IOC president gave a glimpse of the accelerated timeline that led to the postponement.

For many, urging the IOC to continue the pandemic had been a source of frustration. Officials kept saying they were “ fully committed ” to a July 24 opening ceremony, encouraging athletes to “ fully ” continue training, even though many of those athletes called for a change in plans.

If the situation in Africa was an eye opener, there were other troubling trends in the United States and South America. IOC leaders acknowledge that they were focused on Japan, where the government took steps to curb the outbreak.

But host city conditions meant nothing if the competition drew thousands of athletes, officials and fans from countries where the coronavirus was much more common.

Hours after Sunday’s updated statistics, the IOC Board of Directors met for a meeting. Although cancellation was not an option, there was a delay on the table and the management quickly issued a communiqué containing a statement.

“New, alarming information came in,” said Bach. “We saw more and more travel restrictions.”

The pressure on procrastination accelerated Monday morning when the World Health Organization warned of the “accelerating” spread of COVID-19. IOC member Dick Pound had long suspected that procrastination was a foregone conclusion, but others on the committee, including Vice President Anita DeFrantz, thought that statement was premature.

However, no decision could be made without the permission of the hosts. IOC officials informed the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee that they had organized a conference call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We would like to propose that the Games be postponed,” said Bach to the organizers.

Pressure from outside forces increased. In addition to athletes, several Member States asked for a postponement. The Canadian Olympic Committee has announced that it will not send a team to Tokyo in the summer.

Asked about this area on Wednesday, Bach quoted President Trump and other world leaders explaining the plan to postpone a decision late in the spring if the outbreak were to subside.

“In recent weeks, many governments’ measures have been limited to mid-April, some in early May,” he said. “You may have seen President Trump’s latest statements in the United States about the prospect of mid-April that they can lift many restrictions.”

Anyway, by the time Bach spoke to Abe on Tuesday, both parties had come to the same conclusion.

“I have confirmed with President Bach that there will be no cancellation,” Abe said, the Kyodo news reported. “We have agreed to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo in the summer of 2021 at the latest.”

A joint statement was issued, marking only the fourth time in the history of the modern Olympics that the Games had been pushed aside for outside forces, the other three events motivated by the World Wars.

The new planning task group has been nicknamed “Here We Go” and will hold its first meeting on Thursday. Creating a clearing in an already busy 2021 sports calendar will not be easy.

“That means this task force can look at the wider picture,” said Bach. “This isn’t just limited to the summer months.”

After weeks of stubbornness, the IOC seems to have found some flexibility.

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