TOKYO: Japan awoke on Wednesday to the deflating reality that the Olympics they had hoped to host in Tokyo this summer were now probably 16 months away after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis forced organizers into an unprecedented postponement.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government finally succumbed to intense pressure from athletes and sporting bodies around the world on Tuesday when they agreed to put back the Games until 2021.
It was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in preparations, but also for the prestige of the Olympic movement and its leader, Thomas Bach, who had come under fire for not reacting sooner in the face of the global health crisis.
Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) President Yasuhiro Yamashita said that the decision had come earlier than he thought it would, but that he was determined the host nation’s athletes would be ready to compete in 2021.
“Now that the decisions have been made, let’s take this positively, reset our mindset,” he told a news conference.
“With a fresh mind, not giving up, I want to go through this challenge heading into next year.”
Japanese government officials said Prime Minster Shinzo Abe had phoned US President Donald Trump to explain the postponement as they sought to further cushion the economy from the twin blows of the coronavirus and the delayed Games.
Tuesday’s decision came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at Japan’s newly built National Stadium, which was to usher in the 16-day event featuring 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories.
The clock in front of Tokyo Station, which had been displaying the number of days until the Games, ceased its countdown and reverted to Wednesday’s date and time.
Although 14 major corporations have indicated they would remain in the IOC’s global partnership program despite the delay, local organizers might have some negotiating to do to retain their own Games-specific sponsors.
Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd. said it would decide whether to continue sponsorship for another year depending on conditions, including cost.
“We don’t have an answer to whether or not we will continue our sponsorship as we have just heard about the postponement,” Tokyo Gas President Takashi Uchida told a news conference on the company’s new business plans.
“We will make a decision after we learn about details.”
Athletes around the world, many struggling to train because of restrictions put in place to contain a virus that has killed more than 17,200 people, have expressed disappointment but largely welcomed the decision.