POSTPONED: 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games move to 2021
A woman pauses for photos next to the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium in Tokyo, Monday, March 23, 2020. | Jae C. Hong / AP

Well, it finally happened, and much sooner than the four-week timeline announced Sunday, March 23. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic games have been postponed until the summer of 2021.

The International Olympic Committee announcement came early Tuesday and ended all speculation the games would go on as planned despite the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The IOC’s decision followed discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the local Olympic organizing committee.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo 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,” said the IOC in a statement.

The IOC said the games will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, even if they take place next year.

Before the announcement, Abe and IOC president Bach had agreed with his proposal for a one-year delay. “President Bach said he will agree ‘100%,’ and we agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest,” said Abe.

He continued, saying it would be “proof of a victory by human beings against the coronavirus infections.”

The quick decision on the games’ postponement was pushed forward by mounting criticism from national sports federations, governing bodies, and athletes.

IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser—the greatest women’s hockey player ever, four-time Olympic gold medalist, and senior medical student focused on emergency medicine—was the first to break ranks with Bach days ago, publicly criticizing the IOC’s earlier position that the games would go on.

“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” she said via Twitter. “I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.

“We don’t know what’s happening the next 24 hours, let alone in the next three months.”

When asked about why she spoke out, Wickenheiser said, “I just couldn’t sit in silence anymore.”

Following the IOC’s decision, she tweeted: “To all the athletes: take a breath, regroup, take care of yourself and your families. Your time will come.”

This delay is the first postponement in Olympic Games history, though previous games have been canceled in wartime.

Yoshiro Mori, Japan’s Olympic Organizing Committee president, said the Olympic flame will be stored and displayed in Fukushima.

Tokyo organizers and the IOC said they hope their decision will help the world heal from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” the IOC statement said. “Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.