Tokyo Olympics to be postponed until 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic

The Olympics will now take place in summer 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach have agreed to postpone the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"In light of the current conditions and for all the athletes, we made a proposal of a postponement of about a year, to hold them securely and safely," Abe said on Tuesday following a conference call with Bach.

"President Bach said he agreed 100 per cent and we agreed to hold the Olympics by summer 2021."

The 2020 Olympics were scheduled to take place from July 24-August 9, with the road races on the opening weekend, but the viability of those dates came under increasing doubt in recent weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic escalated and more countries imposed restrictions on travel and public gatherings. Over 390,000 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed worldwide. 

The decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was reported by Japanese state broadcaster NHK on Tuesday and later confirmed by the IOC in a statement.

"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," read the statement.

"It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020."

Inevitable postponement

On Monday, Australia and Canada were among the countries to announce that they would not send athletes to the Olympics if they were held this summer. The IOC responded by stating that it would make a decision on whether to postpone the 2020 Olympics within the next four weeks. 

IOC member Dick Pound later told USA Today that the postponement of this summer’s Games was an inevitability. “The Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know,” Pound said.

A new date for the Tokyo Olympics has not been confirmed, but it is clear that the Games will be postponed into 2021 rather than rearranged for the Autumn.

The Olympic Games have never before been postponed, but they were cancelled in 1916 during World War I, and again in 1940 and 1944 during World War II.

The postponement of the Olympics will cast further doubt (opens in new tab) on the feasibility of holding the Tour de France (opens in new tab) (June 27-July 19), although Le Parisien reported on Monday that organiser ASO is examining the prospect of holding the race without a publicity caravan or start village if restrictions of public gatherings and regulations on social distancing remain in place in France by the summer.

The cycling season has ground to a halt due to the spread of the coronavirus, with all racing suspended until the end of April, though the hiatus is likely to continue until the summer at the very least. The Giro d’Italia and Spring Classics have been postponed, while races such as the Tour de Romandie have been cancelled.

Following a teleconference with race organisers and stakeholders last week, UCI president David Lappartient proposed extending the season until the end of October in a bid to find room to hold the Monuments and the Giro in the Autumn.

Should the cycling season recommence in early summer, the delaying of the Olympic Games theoretically frees up space on the calendar to rearrange postponed races between the Tour and the Vuelta a España, which is due to get underway in Utrecht on August 14.

However, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics will also require a rearranging of the 2021 UCI calendar. This year’s Tour de France start was a week earlier than normal to facilitate the men’s road race at the Tokyo Games, which was scheduled for July 25, while the Tour de Suisse and Critérium du Dauphiné were also brought forward by a week.

The 2021 Tour de France is due to begin in Copenhagen on July 2 and conclude in Paris on July 25.

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.