The International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers bowed to widespread pressure among athletes, sports federations and national Olympic committees and Tuesday agreed to postpone the games to 2021, but left the new date in question. The opening ceremony of the games had been scheduled for July 24.
The IOC said a final decision could come in weeks, but it is now much more likely to be announced earlier, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of guidance issued by the IOC. Japanese state broadcaster NHK on Saturday also reported July 23, 2021, as the new target.
The IOC will convene an emergency meeting of its decision-making executive board Sunday to discuss the decision.
Mark Adams, a spokesman for the organization, gave a one-word answer, “speculation,” when asked about the new date Saturday.
The decision to pick an almost identical date to this year’s event is not particularly surprising, given the challenges to squeeze the Olympics in an already packed sporting calendar. It also is the best time for the U.S. broadcaster, NBCUniversal, which pays more than $1 billion for the U.S. media rights to each Olympic Games.
But it means the games will still take place during Tokyo’s hottest time of the year, an issue that was already causing worry and complications. The Olympic marathon was moved to a northern, cooler city after an outcry and organizers had planned several steps to try to keep spectators and competitors cool.
On a call within the past week with Thomas Bach, the IOC president, some federations, including those representing swimming, table tennis, triathlon and equestrian, on a call earlier this week with Thomas Bach, the IOC president, had voiced a preference to hold the Olympics in the spring. That, though, would have led to a clash with the seasons for major soccer leagues and many of the richest U.S. sports leagues.
The IOC also wanted to be sure to steer clear of the European soccer championships, which are being moved to 2021 and usually take place in June.
The road to perhaps the biggest obstacle was cleared when the head of global track and field’s governing body, Sebastian Coe, announced that he was open to moving the athletics world championships set for next summer in Eugene, Oregon. Coe went further than that Friday, telling a group of reporters that moving World Athletics’ main event to 2022 may in fact be beneficial.
“You may have world championships in consecutive years where we wouldn’t normally have had that,’’ he said. “But for athletics, it’s not such a bad thing. To go from 2021 Olympic Games into two editions of the world championships, ’22 — possibly ’22 — ’23 we’re in Budapest, and then into the Olympic Games in Paris in ’24.
“It would offer athletics center stage at a very public point of the year,’’ he added. “So let’s look at it from a slightly optimistic way of being able to punch our sport into the homes of many more people over a four-year consecutive cycle.”
Bach, who has endured much criticism over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, described reorganizing the games as a challenge that would pay off.
Among the issues organizers face are contracts worth billions of dollars with broadcast partners and sponsors as well as how to secure venues and maintain key infrastructure that would need to be mothballed for an extra year.
“A games has never been postponed before,” Bach said. “We have no blueprint, but we are nevertheless confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and will then in the end have a wonderful Olympic Games.”
The traditional July-August date means the IOC will likely be able to call on the presence of top players from the worlds of soccer, tennis and golf, some of the biggest names in global sport and a big attraction for television audiences.
Once a date has been set, the next challenge will be to reorganize qualification competitions that had been disrupted by the coronavirus. Bach said athletes who have already qualified will be guaranteed a place for 2021.
A day after the postponement was declared, the IOC’s preference for next summer was made clear when John Coates, the Australian who heads its commission responsible for the Tokyo Games, said there was a preference for the July-August dates, according to an interview he gave to Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper.
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