March 24 (UPI) — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed in a conference call Tuesday to delay the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Abe proposed during the call Tuesday morning that the Olympics be delayed rather than canceled, to which Bach agreed.
“President Bach and Prime Minister Abe expressed their shared concern about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and what it is doing to people’s lives and the significant impact it is having on global athletes’ preparations for the Games,” the IOC and Tokyo Organizing Committee said in a joint statement.
The committees said the Tokyo Games, which were scheduled to begin July 24, will be delayed for no longer than a year.
“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,” they added. “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.”
Multiple Olympic Games have been canceled, but none have ever before been postponed. The 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games were canceled because of World Wars I and II. Participation was limited during the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow due to a U.S.-led boycott over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Moscow led a similar, but smaller, retaliatory ban against the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
The agreement came just hours after the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee urged the international Olympics governing body to postpone the Tokyo Games.
USOPC Chairwoman Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a joint statement that hundreds of U.S. athletes said the fairest course of action in light of the global coronavirus pandemic is to postpone the event.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” they said.
“To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”
The USOPC sends more athletes to the Olympic Games than any other country.
The survey, answered by almost 1,800 Team USA members, found nearly 65 percent said their training had either been severely impacted by the outbreak or that they can’t train at all. Nearly two-thirds said they believe that continuing to train could put their health at risk.
Monday, Australia called for the Games to be postponed for a year and Canada said Sunday it wouldn’t send a team to Tokyo if the Games were held this summer.