The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced a first-of-its-kind postponement of the Summer Olympics.
The Tokyo Games are being delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has affected daily life around the world, making planning for the sporting event in July nearly impossible.
The IOC released a statement on the Tokyo Games Tuesday. It said they “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.”
Athletes, sports organizations and national Olympic committees had been pressuring the IOC to postpone the games. They noted that the virus had put serious limitations on training and qualifying events, as well as efforts to fight the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada was the first International Olympic Committee member to criticize the IOC for not postponing the games sooner.
After the announcement to postpone the Olympics, she released a statement on Twitter. It read:
“To all the athletes: take a breath, regroup, take care of yourself and your families. Your time will come.”
IOC President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo spoke by telephone Tuesday morning. The two men, top IOC officials and Japan’s organizing committee agreed to the call to delay the 2020 Summer Games.
Other Olympics — 1916, 1940 and 1944 — have been canceled because of war. But none have ever been postponed for any reason. The Tokyo Games would still be called the 2020 Olympics, although they will be held in 2021.
“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope,” the IOC said in a statement.
The decision eases some of athletes’ concerns. They no longer have to move forward with training under near-impossible conditions, unsure of when, exactly, they need to be ready — and for what.
“Thankful to finally have some clarity regarding The Olympic Games. A huge decision but I think the right one for sure,” noted British runner Adam Gemili on Twitter. “Time to regain, look after each other during this difficult period and go again when the time is right!”
One reason the IOC took longer to make the decision was because it wanted to have a plan of action. Many of the arenas, sports centers, and hotels in and around Tokyo have special use agreements for the games, which were to open on July 24. Remaking those agreements is doable, but will come at a cost. Tokyo has already spent a reported $28 billion to hold the games.
“A lot can happen in one year, so we have to think about what we have to do,” said Toshiro Muto, head of the Tokyo Games organizing committee. “The decision came upon us all of a sudden.”
But for weeks, it was becoming increasingly clear that starting on July 24 was no longer a choice.
Calls to postpone the Tokyo games
Almost every sport around the world has suspended play after health officials declared COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, a pandemic. Holding Olympic qualifying events over the next month or two became increasingly unreasonable.
At first, Olympic committees in Canada and Australia were saying they either would not, or could not, send a team to Tokyo in July. World Athletics and the three biggest Olympic sports in the United States — swimming, track and gymnastics — were calling for a postponement.
As recently as Sunday, the IOC was saying it would take up to four weeks to reach a decision. Four weeks ended up being two days.
The decision came only a few hours after local organizers said the Olympic torch relay would start as planned on Thursday. The event was expected to start in the northeastern Japanese prefecture of Fukushima, but with no torch, no torch carriers and no members of public.
Those plans also changed.
The Olympic flame will continue burning and be kept in Fukushima. Like everything else in the Olympic world, its next move will be decided at a later date.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Eddie Pells, Stephen Wade and Mari Yamaguchi reported on this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world
reschedule(d) – v. to change the plans for the date of an event to a different date
athlete(s) – n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength
qualifying – adj. having the skills that are required or do the things that are required to become a member of a team or to be allowed in a competition
enhancing – v. increasing or improving something
beacon – n. someone or something that guides or gives hope to others
regarding – prep. relating to something
torch – n. a long stick with material at one end that burns brightly
prefecture – n. any one of the areas into which some countries such as Japan and France are divided for local government