March 24 Update: After not wanting to officially step up and postpone the games, the IOC has now had to swallow its pride and make a decision.  As should come as no surprise, this year’s Olympics have been postponed, now expected to be held sometime next year.  The decision was apparently made jointly by the IOC and Japan’s Prime Minister.

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad will still be held in Tokyo, but the exact dates won’t be known for a couple of weeks, at the earliest.  The IOC said in a statement that it is currently exploring its options, but that the competitions will be held next year, but “not later than summer 2021.”  With the coronavirus still causing trouble, and with so many moving parts, there’s no easy way to come up with an alternative schedule.

The CEO of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Sarah Hirshland, added in the statement, “Despite the feeling of eventuality that so many of us have felt in the lead up to this moment — my heart breaks for you, your fellow athletes around the world, our friends at Tokyo 2020, the people of Japan, and all who are impacted by this global pandemic and the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games 2020.”

—-

If your summertime plans include a quick jaunt to Tokyo, Japan, to watch the Olympics, it’s time to begin to make other arrangements.  Athletes, their families and friends and sports fans from around the world have been waiting for this July to come around so they could get caught up in Olympic fever, but it now looks like things aren’t going to go as planned.

The latest word from the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is that the games will be postponed, possibly until sometime next year, because of the coronavirus.

Initially expected to run July 24 to August 9, Tokyo, and all Olympics teams around the world, have put in a lot of time and resources into preparing for the upcoming competitions.  However, along comes a virus that can’t be seen except with a microscope, and everything gets turned upside down.  Dick Pound, a member of the IOC, told USA Today, “You’re looking at a postponement.  I think that’s out there now.  We’re all reading the tea leaves and so on, but the Japanese themselves are talking about postponing. A lot of National Olympic Committees and countries are calling for a postponement.”

At least two countries – Canada and Australia – had already indicated that they would try to prevent all those participating in the Olympic Games from making their way to Tokyo in July if the events weren’t canceled.  In Canada, that decision had been made by the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), with a similar one made by the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and was supported by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

David Shoemaker, the CEO of the COC, asserted, “I’d like to think it means is that we don’t prioritize gold medals at all costs, that at a time when our prime minister, our minister of health and our public health officer are telling us that it’s time to stay indoors, flatten the curve, socially distance, that our athletes are saying ,’We’re Canadians, too, and we’re going to do our part.’  And I’m very proud of our athletes frankly for taking the lead in saying that.”

Japan reportedly showed support for the postponement, as well.  Country leaders had indicated that they were concerned about possibly causing a resurgence of COVID-19, and would not be against holding off on the games.  Other Olympic committees from various countries, while not coming forward to prohibit participation, were also supportive of the delay.

Despite Pound’s message and the various countries’ urges, the IOC has yet to issue an official statement.  The committee released a statement yesterday ahead of Pound’s comments to USA Today, indicating that it plans on starting “detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement.”  It added that these conversations would be held “in full coordination and partnership” with all relevant entities, including Japanese authorities, and that the final decision would be made “within the next four weeks.”

This isn’t just a matter of a gentlemen’s agreement to hold off on a competition because one of the participants became ill.  There are a lot of implications – legal and otherwise – that have to be taken into account should the games be postponed.  Apart from the fact that there is over $13 billion at risk, if one side – the IOC or Japan – is seen as the decision-maker, those losses could be even greater.

No Olympic Games have ever been postponed, although they have been suspended during wartime.  This is a unique situation, and finding a suitable alternative schedule is not an easy task.  There are logistics issues, scheduling issues, sports seasons issues and much more that have to be taken into consideration, and, even then, there’s no guarantee that the new schedule will play out the way everyone expects.  It’s certainly a difficult situation, but it’s also one completely without precedent, and there’s no way to apply any “normal” solution to an abnormal problem.