The Tokyo Olympics are headed toward the first postponement since the modern games began in the 19th century, as national teams arrange to pull out and Japan’s leader acknowledged a delay may be unavoidable due to the coronavirus.
International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound added to the drumbeat on Monday, telling USA Today that the decision to push back the July-August event has already been made. But the committee hasn’t announced a delay yet. It said over the weekend that it would figure out its plans within four weeks.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in an interview with the newspaper. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Parliament Monday that the Olympics will have to be postponed if safety can’t be guaranteed for spectators and athletes due to the pandemic.
After weeks of avoiding direct mention of scuttling the current schedule, Abe changed his tone and said if the full games cannot be held in an environment where everyone feels safe, “a decision will have to be made to postpone it.” He added that cancellation was not an option, and that he wanted an IOC decision to be made as soon as possible.
If the Olympics are called off, it would be the biggest event to be halted by the virus, which has caused more than 329,000 confirmed infections, led to a plunge in global markets and slammed the brakes on international travel.
The last time an Olympics was cancelled was in 1944 due to World War II, and the games have never been delayed by as long as a year under the auspices of the IOC, which was established in 1894. The 1940 games were initially postponed, but then cancelled.
Several nations are calling for the Olympics to be pushed back until at least 2021. That would cause logistical nightmares but would be far less painful than cancellation for the host, sponsors, broadcasters and others that have tens of billions of dollars invested in the international sports event.
If the Olympics don’t happen, the Japanese economy could face some $60 billion in losses tied directly to the event and indirectly from the lingering effect on tourism, domestic consumption, exports and capital investment, according to a March estimate from Goldman Sachs. A cancelled or postponed Olympics would likely result in Japan’s economy shrinking for the longest stretch since the global financial crisis, according to some economists.