Wasting little time since its recent announcement of rescheduling the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee has set new dates for the Tokyo Games in 2021: July 23 to August 8. The Paralympic Games will follow several weeks after, being staged August 24 to September 5.
The new dates nearly mirror the dates of the original 2020 Games, which were set to begin on July 24 for the Olympics and August 25 for the Paralympics. The IOC said the new dates had buy-in from all international summer Olympic sport federations as well as the national Olympic committees.
“I want to thank the International federations for their unanimous support and the Continental Associations of National Olympic Committees for the great partnership and their support in the consultation process over the last few days,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “I would also like to thank the IOC Athletes’ Commission, with whom we have been in constant contact. With this announcement, I am confident that, working together with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Japanese Government and all our stakeholders, we can master this unprecedented challenge. Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel. These Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a light at the end of this tunnel.”
In announcing the decision, the IOC said it took three factors into consideration: Protecting the health of athletes and all involved in the Games and to support the containment of COVID-19; Safeguarding the interests of the athletes; and the global international sports calendar.
Up next will be determining how the new dates affect the rest of that calendar, including previously scheduled world championships for both swimming and track and field, the latter of which will be hosted by Eugene, Oregon. World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has said the event could be moved to 2022 if necessary.
“Everyone needs to be flexible and compromise and to that end we are now working with the organizers of the World Athletics Championships in Oregon on new dates in 2022 for our World Athletics Championships,” World Athletics said in a statement following the IOC’s decision. “We are also in discussions with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the European Championships. We would like to thank our Oregon 21 Organizing Committee, their stakeholders and our partners for their collaboration and willingness to explore all options.”
Other events that may be impacted include the World Games, a large multisport competition that is scheduled for Birmingham, Alabama, on July 15–25, 2021. In a statement before the IOC’s decision, the International World Games Association said it was monitoring the situation closely with the hope of keeping the event as scheduled.
“We shall endeavor to ensure that The World Games will take place as planned, and we will work closely with the IOC on the rescheduling so as to minimize any impact on the athletes’ preparations,” said World Games CEO Joachim Gossow. “Facing this challenge together, we believe that the IWGA and the IOC can become pillars of strength during this difficult time, but this can only be achieved if we work together for the benefit of all the athletes.”
The decision to postpone the Games was made after an extended period of time during which both the IOC and Tokyo organizers insisted the event would be held. But “what changed was the worldwide health situation,” Bach said, leading to the consideration of postponement.
Despite the 2021 dates, the IOC has said the events will remain known as the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games 2020 — partially to assuage sponsorship concerns. “These Games are called the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” Bach said. “It is a logical consequence that the sponsors of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 keep their rights, even if these Games are organized in 2021.”
The financial repercussions from the IOC’s decision to postpone are many. The price tag for Japan’s spending is estimated as high as $25 billion, there are millions of hotel nights that will need to be re-booked and an IOC estimate was “the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted.”
The athletes village was scheduled to be converted into public apartments will also have to be resolved and each Olympic venue must be rebooked — some of the venues had events previously reserved for 2021.
CoSport, the only authorized Olympics ticket vendor in the U.S., said in an email to customers that people who have purchased tickets will be able to use them when the competition is officially rescheduled, but it will take weeks to finalize details. In a statement after the new dates were announced, Tokyo 2020 said it would begin the process of honoring 2020 tickets for the 2021 Games, and issue refunds for those ticket holders who can no longer attend on the new dates.
The move to postpone the Games was met with international support. It is the first time that the Olympics have been postponed. The 1916 Olympic Summer Games were scheduled for Berlin before being canceled because of World War I. The 1940 Summer Games scheduled for Tokyo and the 1944 Summer Games scheduled for London were canceled along with the 1940 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, and 1944 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, because of World War II.
United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland sent a letter to athletes after the IOC’s decision to postpone that in part read: “This summer was supposed to be a culmination of your hard work and life’s dream, but taking a step back from competition to care for our communities and each other is the right thing to do. Your moment will wait until we can gather again safely.”
The Olympic torch relay was scheduled to start on March 25 in Japan after being lit on March 12 in Greece (above), and the IOC said “the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. 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.”
NBC has sold $1.25 billion in advertising for the Games and television analysts predicted in case of postponement the rates advertisers bought at would have to be renegotiated by NBC, which agreed to pay the IOC $7.75 billion for rights to the Olympics through 2032 and planned on broadcasting more than 7,000 hours of coverage. Several USOPC sponsor contracts expire at the end of 2020 as planning is already underway for the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games in Los Angeles including the previously announced sponsorship of Delta as the official airline that is scheduled to start on January 1, 2021.
Japan has fewer numbers of both confirmed cases and deaths from the coronavirus than most countries in the world — 1,193 cases and 43 deaths through March 24 — and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had consistently refused the idea of either postponement or cancellation, saying on March 16, “I want to hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly, as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus.”
Abe’s statements were in lockstep with the IOC, whose executive board said on March 17 that the organization “remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games, there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive” while Bach went so far as to say there was “no Plan B” in the planning.
Pushback began almost immediately and left the IOC backtracking within days, releasing another statement giving itself a four-week deadline to determine whether the Games would go as scheduled. Canada’s Olympic committee declared that it would boycott if the Games went on as scheduled, Germany quickly followed suit, and Australia told its athletes to prepare for a rescheduling of the Games to 2021. Officials in Slovenia, Norway, Brazil, Great Britain, France and Spain called for postponement.
By that point even Abe sensed the winds were shifting, admitting to Japan’s Parliament on March 23 that “we may not have a choice but to make a decision to postpone, putting a priority on athletes.”