TOKYO — Not even the Summer Olympics could withstand the force of the coronavirus. After weeks of hedging, the IOC took the unprecedented step of postponing the world’s biggest sporting event, a global extravaganza that’s been cemented into the calendar for more than a century.
The Tokyo Games, slated for 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries and at a reported cost of $28 billion, had been scheduled to start July 24. They will now be pushed into 2021 on dates to be determined.
They will still be called the 2020 Olympics — a symbolic gesture that the International Olympic Committee hopes will allow the games to “stand as a beacon of hope,” as it stated in delivering the news Tuesday.
“I don’t think anybody was really prepared for this virus happening,” said American sprinter Noah Lyles, who had been primed to be one of the world’s breakout stars in Tokyo. “You look over the history of the Olympics and see that it’s usually war that’s stopped the Olympics from happening.”
Only World War I and World War II have forced the Olympics to be canceled; they were scrubbed in 1916, 1940 and 1944.
Now, a microscopic virus that is wreaking havoc with daily life around the planet, to say nothing of its sports schedule, has accomplished what no other virus (Zika in 2016), act of terrorism (the killing of Israelis in Munich in 1972), boycott (1980 and 1984), threat of war (frequent) or actual world war itself has managed to do: postpone the games and push them into an odd-numbered year.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The global pandemic has sickened at least 420,000 people and killed more than 18,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Four-time Olympic hockey champion Hayley Wickenheiser, the first IOC member to criticize the body’s long-held, dug-in refusal to change the dates, called the postponement the “message athletes deserved to hear.”
Major sports organizations, including World Athletics and the gymnastics, track and swimming federations in the United States, were calling for a delay. So were major countries, including Canada, Brazil and Australia.