Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe confirmed Tuesday the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be postponed due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
After speaking with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, Abe told reporters the Games will be delayed until the summer of 2021 at the latest. The Tokyo Olympics were previously set to begin on July 24.
This is the first time in modern history that the Olympics have been postponed due to a global health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 17,000 lives globally, causing widespread social distancing and other efforts to slow its spread.
The announcement came less than a day after veteran IOC member Dick Pound said “postponement has been decided” in an interview with USA Today.
Pound made these remarks after the IOC announced a four-week deadline on Sunday to determine a path for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The IOC reacted after widespread outcry came from national sports governing bodies around the world.
The U.S. Olympic Committee released a statement Monday night calling for the postponement of the Games. This came after U.S. Track and Field and USA Swimming — two of the largest and winningest governing bodies in American athletics — had already called for a petition to either postpone the Olympics or for the Americans to boycott.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the statement read. “To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee was the first country to pull its athletes out of the Tokyo Olympics if the Games weren’t postponed, announcing its plans Sunday. The Canadian men’s and women’s soccer teams issued their own statement in support of the decision.
The Australian Olympic Committee followed next, telling its athletes to prepare for a 12-month postponement of the Olympics on Monday.
This postponement will greatly impact athletes throughout the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer. Both the U.S. and Canadian women’s national teams had successfully qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, and the majority of players from both national teams play in the NWSL. Olympians from other countries — such as Brazilians Debinha and Marta and Australians like Alanna Kennedy — also play in the league.
Although Concacaf qualifying for the men’s teams was postponed due to the pandemic, players throughout MLS were expected to represent their countries this summer. The future is now uncertain for the U.S. men’s national team as it chases a critical Olympic qualification.
The rescheduling of the Olympics will also impact the future calendars for both leagues’ 2021 seasons. Both the NWSL and MLS are still working to reconfigure their previous schedules due to suspensions that will last at least two months. Trying to fit a new set of international windows will add another logistical hurdle for both leagues.
The postponement also means older athletes who were preparing for their final games may not be retained on 2021 Olympic rosters.