Tokyo Olympics: IOC chief Thomas Bach says postponing Games 'about protecting lives'

It was announced on Tuesday that the event, initially set to begin on Juy 24, would now take place 'no later than summer 2021'

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International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said he did not discuss the cost of postponing this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games because saving lives was more important amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

It was announced on Tuesday that the event, initially set to begin on Juy 24, would now take place "no later than summer 2021" following a conference call between Bach and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe later said he and Bach were in "100 per cent agreement" regarding the postponement – the first in the Olympics 124-year history - with the event to keep its "Tokyo 2020" title despite taking place next year.

In a conference call with journalists afterwards, Bach said, "This is about protecting lives” although he could not confirm precise dates for the new Games.

"About two hours after my phone call I cannot give you a definite answer,” Bach said. “These are the reasons why we had decided we need at least four weeks to assess all these questions ... These are not the only ones."

Prime Minister Abe announces postponement of 2020 Olympics

Prime Minister Abe announces postponement of 2020 Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and organisers now have the unenviable task of rescheduling a Games that comprises 33 sports and is sure to require significant additional funds. Tokyo has already spent $12 billion (Dh44bn) on the Olympics.

A joint statement from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee on Tuesday read: "The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating. On Monday, the director general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the Covid-19 pandemic is 'accelerating'.

"In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO [Tuesday], the IOC president and the prime minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo 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.

"The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo 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."

There had been mounting pressure for the Games to be postponed, with athletes unable to take part in qualifying events and training disrupted by measures put in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

IOC member Dick Pound said late Monday that the organisation had already decided to postpone the showpiece event before the official announcement.

That followed a letter from World Athletics president Sebastian Coe to Bach calling for the Games to be suspended, in which he stated a summer event was "neither feasible or desirable" amid the fight against the pandemic.

Canada and Australia had already confirmed they would be withdrawing from the event, while USA Track and Field had also called for a postponement. The IOC had originally given itself four weeks to consider a delay.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parson said the postponement was "the only logical option", adding: "The health and well-being of human life must always be our No 1 priority and staging a sporting event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible.

"Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is. It is essential, therefore, that all steps are taken to try to limit the spread of this disease.

"By taking this decision now, everyone involved in the Paralympic movement, including all Para-athletes, can fully focus on their own health and well-being and staying safe during this unprecedented and difficult time."

British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Anson said: "It is with profound sadness that we accept the postponement, but in all consciousness it is the only decision we can support, in light of the devastating impact Covid-19 is having on our nation, our communities and our families.

"It would have been unthinkable for us to continue to prepare for an Olympic Games at a time the nation and the world no less is enduring great hardship. A postponement is the right decision."

Although the modern Olympics had never been postponed, they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of the World Wars.