It’s official, Tokyo 2020 is being postponed due to the COVID-19 worldwide outbreak. Dick Pound, an IOC member, told USAToday “[o]n the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided[.]”
There has been speculation about this for a while. In the last few weeks particularly, as we’ve seen conventions and sporting events canceled, it has been questioned whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be postponed or not. As recently as March 14th Japan’s Prime Minister Abe has spoken confidently about Tokyo 2020 going forward, but we all knew that the final decision would be made by the International Olympic Committee.
Despite looking a bit tone-deaf in not seeming to consider postponement or cancellation, the Japanese government is at the mercy of the IOC on this matter. The nightmare scenario for Japan is that the games get postponed until 2021, because the host contract allows the IOC to cancel the games unilaterally if they are not held in 2020. Unfortunately, a scenario where the lives of the participants are considered in danger also allows the IOC to cancel. Basically, Japan can only hope that Tokyo 2020 is postponed, not canceled, and has no real power to decide the matter. That being said, Olympics have only previously been canceled in wartime.
If, like me, you were excited for the Tokyo Olympics, there’s still hope. Dick Pound mentions in the USAToday article that the details have yet to be worked out, but he does explicitly say that the talks are over postponement, not cancellation (yet). The IOC would also be looking at major financial losses if the Tokyo 2020 postponement transforms into a cancellation instead. They don’t make money unless the games go forward. So, while the IOC may have the power to cancel the games, the IOC’s very existence is at risk if they do so.
As we all weather the consequences of COVID-19, let’s all take a moment to mourn the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Hopefully this time next year we’ll be looking forward to the approaching summer games. If that happens, do they become the Tokyo 2021 Olympics?