The word the IOC doesn’t want to hear is looming large
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe have finally conceded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis.
As exclusively revealed by News Corp Australia, Olympic officials have bowed to the inevitable and begun working out when to reschedule the Games after previously insisting they would only go ahead as planned on July 24 this year.
And now Shinzo Abe, who has steadfastly held out for the Games to start on time, said postponing the Games "may become inevitable" if the new coronavirus outbreak makes it impossible to hold the Games safely.
The IOC has now released a statement ruling out cancelling the Games altogether, but is now considering postponing them to either 2021 or 2022.
A decision is expected no later than in the next four weeks.
"Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games. The IOC wants to be part of the solution," IOC President Thomas Bach wrote in a letter to athletes.
"Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus.
"I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, NOCs and IFs from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel."
In a statement outlining the dramatic change of heart, the IOC said the escalation of the coronavirus and the concerns of athletes was their prime concern but delaying the Tokyo Olympics until the pandemic was over.
Cancellation has been ruled out with postponement - either to 2021 or 2022 - the preferred option, with a formal announcement expected no later than four weeks after the IOC executive board meets with Japanese organisers and other key stakeholders to reach an agreement.
"On the one hand, there are significant improvements in Japan where the people are warmly welcoming the Olympic flame.
This could strengthen the IOC's confidence in the Japanese hosts that the IOC could, with certain safety restrictions, organise Olympic Games in the country while respecting its principle of safeguarding the health of everyone involved," the statement said.
"On the other hand, there is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents. This led the EB to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning."
The IOC did acknowledge the enormous challenges that it faces by trying to reschedule the Games but said it was hopeful a quick solution could be found to all the problems.
"A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore. The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges," the statement said.
"Therefore, further to the study of different scenarios, it would need the full commitment and co-operation of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the Japanese authorities, and of all the International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs).
"It would also require commitment from, and collaboration with, the Rights-Holding Broadcasters (RHBs) and our TOP Partner sponsors, as part of their continued and valued support to the Olympic Movement, as well as co-operation from all the Games' partners, suppliers and contractors.
"The IOC is confident that it will have finalised these discussions within the next four weeks, and greatly appreciates the solidarity and partnership of the NOCs and IFs in supporting the athletes and adapting Games planning.
"The IOC EB emphasised that a cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda."
The global organising body that runs track and field was among the first to applaud the move.
"World Athletics welcomes discussions with the IOC to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and wrote to the IOC earlier today to relay this feedback from its Area Presidents, Council and athletes. We stand ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date."
Originally published as The word the IOC doesn't want to hear is looming large