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International Olympic Committee Leaders Outline Progress, Next Steps After Tokyo Postponement

By Karen Price | April 02, 2020, 12:59 p.m. (ET)

A boat passes the Olympic Rings by the Rainbow Bridge on Mar. 25, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

 

The International Olympic Committee announced last week that the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are postponed, and on Monday decided they will be held July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

Now putting the pieces in place to host the Games one year later is a “very complicated jigsaw puzzle,” said Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Games executive director, but one that at least now has a target to shoot for.

“We’re shooting toward a target that is identified, and it’s reassuring,” Dubi said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “It means we can go ahead in a context that was created both by the prime minister of Japan and (IOC President) Thomas Bach, where both reiterated their full commitment to these Games.”

The IOC leaders on the call addressed a variety of developments that have taken place since the announcements that the Games would take place roughly one year after their original dates, while emphasizing the goal of having the Games serve as a beacon of hope as the world recovers from the pandemic that’s altered life so dramatically in recent months.

“Once restrictions are lifted and the world gets through the challenges of COVID-19, I think sports and the Olympic Games will come back and play an even more important role in giving people something positive and hopeful and exciting to focus on,” IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell said. “I think the Olympic Games will bring all that together in the summer of next year.”

Still, what the IOC is dealing with now is unprecedented, Dubi said. Booked, in place and ready to host the world in four months were 41 sports venues, convention centers, the athlete’s village, more than 40,000 hotel rooms, 2,000 busses and thousands of contracts for goods and services that now have to be restructured and secured for one year later. 

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The athlete’s village, for instance, was scheduled to become private housing after the conclusion of the Olympics and Paralympics. 

“The village is part of the first priority,” Dubi said.

However, McConnell said, the schedule for the Olympic Games will remain the same and the marathon and race walk will still be held in the northern city of Sapporo as planned.

McConnell also said that all the quotas and direct athlete qualifications that have already happened for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 — about 57 percent of the total — will remain in place. 

“But in all sports the National Organizing Committees retain the right to select the individual athletes from anyone eligible to fill that place,” he said. “That right of the NOC will remain in place for next year.”

Fourteen U.S. athletes have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games by name.

Organizers are also in discussions with different federations about unique questions, including minimum and maximum age requirements that may exist, McConnell said, and the goal is to have decisions on that front within two weeks. For example, gymnastics has a minimum age requirement, so athletes who weren’t eligible for 2020 might now be old enough for 2021. Men’s soccer, on the other hand, has a maximum age for all but three players on each roster.

Officials also fielded questions about the business side of the postponement, saying that the IOC is drawing up global guidelines for the extension of sponsorships and that an “equitable solution” is being sought with broadcasters, who generally don’t make payments until the Games happen.

And while it’s too soon to speculate what might happen should the pandemic stretch into next year, Dubi said the IOC has a task force in place that includes members of the World Health Organization and will have an ongoing appraisal of the situation. 

In the meantime, McConnell said, the postponement ensures that all athletes will have the chance to be at their best for the Games.

“We know that the athletes are really challenged in their ability to train and prepare right now, so postponing the Games until next summer gives them the maximum opportunity to gather regardless of where they are in their COVID-19 outbreak,” he said.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.