It is now official, there will be no Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. For the first time in the history of sport, they are postponed by one year. The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese Prime Minister, confirmed this afternoon. With this postponement and in the face of an avalanche of competition cancellations, equestrian sports fans will have to wait.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a conference call this morning to discuss the changing environment regarding Covid-19 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. They were joined by Mori Yoshiro, President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, Olympic Minister Hashimoto Seiko, Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko, IOC Coordination Commission Chairman John Coates, IOC Director General Christophe de Kepper, and IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi.
In the words of the IOC press release, “President Bach and Prime Minister Abe expressed their shared concern about the global Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on people’s lives and its significant impact on the preparation of the world’s athletes for the Games. In a very friendly and constructive meeting, the two leaders praised the work of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and noted the great progress made in Japan to combat Covid-19. The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the epidemic has led to a deterioration of the situation in the rest of the world”. Yesterday, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the Covid-19 pandemic was “accelerating”, with more than 375,000 cases registered worldwide and in almost every country, and figures that are increasing by the hour.
“Under the current circumstances and on the basis of information provided by WHO, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled beyond 2020 and no later than the summer of 2021, to protect the health of the athletes, all those involved in the Olympic Games and the international community. Leaders agreed that the Tokyo Olympics could be a beacon of hope for the world in these troubled times and that the Olympic Flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel the world finds itself in today. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame would remain in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games would continue to be known as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the statement concluded.
In history, the Games had been deprogrammed only three times, in 1916, 40 and 44, due to the two World Wars, but had never been postponed for one or more years. Since the beginning of March, the IOC had been working with the Japanese authorities on several scenarios. In a letter addressed to the sportsmen and women on Sunday, President Thomas Bach promised to take a decision within four weeks rather than at the end of May as previously announced. However, the cut-off point finally fell today, under pressure from a growing number of National Olympic Committees and international federations, especially in the many disciplines that have not yet completed their qualification processes. Even in the equestrian world, where qualifications had already been acquired – will they still be valid in 2021? – trainer Isabell Werth, the most successful rider with ten Olympic medals, did not hesitate to denounce “an incomprehensible and unjustifiable delaying tactic by the IOC and the Japanese”, in an interview with the SID agency this weekend. “They should take their cue from football and Formula One and say right now: there will be no Games in July,” the 50-year-old German said.