Olympic chiefs on Tuesday officially postponed the 2020 Tokyo Games until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic that is upending global society, AFP reports.
The dramatic step is the first time the Olympics has been postponed in peacetime and comes as a devastating blow to the city of Tokyo and the Olympic movement.
The decision came after a telephone call between International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who said the Games, initially scheduled to start on July 24 this year, will now take place "not later than summer 2021".
Abe said Bach was in "100 percent agreement" when Japan asked the IOC to delay the Games, a decision welcomed with widespread relief from athletes, sports federations and officials.
In a joint statement, Bach and Abe said based on current World Health Organization information, the Tokyo Games "must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community."
They added that the Tokyo Games "could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.
"Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020," the statement concluded.
The official announcement comes one day after International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said the Games likely will be pushed back to 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, though he said the details still need to be worked out.
Bach said on Tuesday the decision to postpone was "about protecting human life", with 11,091 athletes expected at the Games along with 90,000 volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of officials and spectators.
The Olympic Committee of Israel said in a statement that it welcomed the postponement, noting that Israel’s Olympic athletes have been suffering from the uncertainty, and that it hoped the international committee would officially announce a date for next year’s games soon.
“Even though the postponement was unavoidable, the disappointment is severe. But in sports, disappointment is part of the process, and of the road to success,” said the statement, quoted by Haaretz.
The coronavirus has already had an effect on several sports. Last week, UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, postponed its marquee championship, Euro 2020, until next week in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.
It was followed by the NHL which suspended its season as well, and MLB which cancelled Spring Training and delayed the start of its regular season, which had been scheduled for March 26.