Japan and the International Olympic Committee have agreed to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach on Tuesday agreed to reschedule the games to “no later than” summer 2021, off the back of new advice from the World Health Organization on the coronavirus (COVID-19).
It comes after mounting pressure from the international community to cancel the Olympic Games.
“The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating,” the IOC said in a statement.
“Yesterday, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘accelerating’. There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.”
This marks the first occasion an Olympic Games have been rescheduled in peacetime, with the 1940 and 1944 games cancelled due to World War II, and the 1916 games cancelled due to World War I.
The IOC and PM of Japan said the decision had been made in the interests of safeguarding “the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community”.
It was also agreed that the games would still be branded the 2020 Olympics, even though they would be held in 2021.
The Olympic Flame, which arrived in Miyagi Prefecture on Friday, will remain in Japan as a “beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times”, according to the statement.
It is currently in Fukushima, where the 121-day torch relay was set to begin this week and pass through 859 municipalities across all 47 prefectures of Japan.
Hope has begun lighting our way in Japan. ? #OlympicTorchRelay
The flame will now be exhibited in the Tohoku Region, one of the areas most affected by the 2011 earthquake, sharing its message of recovery and the relay concept of #HopeLightsOurWay for #Tokyo2020. pic.twitter.com/T7pvgeTJCn
— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) March 20, 2020
Drastic economic and thematic cost of postponement
The postponement is being considered a massive blow to the host country, with organisers having earlier declared the games were expected to cost some 1.37 trillion yen ($19.47 billion).
Goldman Sachs estimated this month that Japan would lose 550 billion yen ($8.32 billion) in inbound and domestic consumption in 2020 if the Olympics were to be postponed.
Likewise, with the games set to now occur in 2021, the original message for the games, of Japan’s recovery following the devastating 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, is set to be affected.
The event will now be tinged with the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s a different story now,” Satoko Suzuki, a professor at Hitotsubashi University’s School of International Corporate Strategy in Tokyo, told Bloomberg.
“They originally wanted to show Japan is back on track.”
Featured image credit: iStock/Joel Papalini