SINGAPORE — The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be held by the summer of 2021 at the latest, said Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday (24 March).
This is the first time in the 124-year history of the modern Olympics that a Summer Games has been postponed, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing a global crisis with more than 387,000 confirmed cases. The Olympics have been cancelled outright on three occasions due to the two world wars.
Abe had made the comment in a briefing with reporters following a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Thomas Bach.
"We asked President Bach to consider postponement of about one year to make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition, and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators," he said.
“President Bach said he is in agreement 100 per cent.”
The decision came after mounting pressure from countries, athletes, officials and sports bodies to put off the Summer Games due to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Canada and Australia have already said they will not be sending teams to Tokyo if the Olympics go ahead as scheduled this July, while Britain said it was likely to follow suit after meeting with sporting body representatives on Tuesday.
Joseph Schooling welcomes postponement
A spokesperson from the Singapore National Olympic Council said that the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics was made under difficult circumstances.
“We will regroup with the affected national sports associations to review any changes and updates from their respective international federations on the qualification process, and revisions to their selection policies if any, and address any concerns from our athletes,” the spokesperson told Yahoo News Singapore.
“We hope by then Team Singapore will be able to participate in the Olympic Games and celebrate the triumph of sports, but also humanity, without the risks the world is facing now.”
Singapore’s reigning Olympic swimming champion Joseph Schooling welcomes the move to postpone the Tokyo Olympics.
“I am pleased that the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee have come to a decision. This is undoubtedly a tough call but not an unexpected one. I believe this is the right move so as to not endanger the health and well-being of athletes and the public,” said the defending men’s 100m butterfly gold-medallist.
“As athletes, we need to focus on being prepared and giving ourselves the best possible chance of success at the largest sporting event in the world. This decision gives us clarity as we recalibrate and work out the best plan around the new dates of the Tokyo Olympics.
“My heart goes out to the working committee of the Tokyo Olympics, SNOC and all affected athletes around the world. By keeping calm, staying united and being socially responsible, I believe we can overcome the challenging times ahead and beat the virus.”
Philippines weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who clinched a silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, told Yahoo News Singapore that she is disappointed with the postponement, but will still train with “hope and determination” for the Tokyo Games.
“I can’t deny my disappointment with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 as I have been preparing for the Games. I’ve set aside everything to focus on training for the Olympics together with my team,” said the 29-year-old, who has yet to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
“We can’t do anything for now because we are against the dreaded COVID-19. We can’t control the pandemic. My hardships and sacrifices for the Olympics is nothing in comparison with all the front-liners who are risking their lives to save Filipinos affected by COVID-19.
“Despite the postponement I am still training with hope and determination to do everything for the Philippines. I am fired up to train hard, do better and perform well for the Philippines.”
Games will still be branded as “Tokyo 2020”
The IOC had originally set a four-week deadline to decide on the fate on the Tokyo Olympics, but the move was criticised for leaving athletes in the dark, not knowing whether they should resume their training regimes, or stay home to avoid being infected by COVID-19.
The global virus lockdown has shut down competitions, including Olympic qualifiers, and made training not just difficult but also dangerous, as athletes risk contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Tokyo had completed preparations when the virus started spreading across the world. Despite insisting for months the Games would go ahead as planned, Abe this week said a delay may be unavoidable if the events could not be held in a complete form.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike separately told reporters the Games would still be branded “Tokyo 2020” despite the likelihood of it being held next year.
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