Following a full one-year postponement, the Olympic Games Tokyo will take place July 23-Aug. 8, 2021, with the Paralympic Games to follow Aug. 24-Sept. 5, 2021.
The announcement of the new dates comes six days after the International Olympic Committee took the unprecedented step on March 24 of delaying the Tokyo Games in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. The International Paralympic Committee announced the Tokyo Paralympic Games would be pushed back as well.
The Olympic Games were originally set for July 24-Aug. 9, with the Paralympic Games running Aug. 25-Sept. 6. They will now take place exactly one year later, though starting one day earlier to line up with the calendar (Olympic Games begin on a Friday and the Paralympic Games on a Tuesday).
The decision was made by the IOC, IPC, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Tokyo metropolitan government and government of Japan, and supported by the International Summer Olympic Sport Federations and National Olympic Committees. The three main principles outlined behind the new dates are the maximum time possible to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, safeguarding the interests of the athletes and Olympic sport, and coinciding with the international sport calendar as best as possible.
Since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the Summer Games have been held every four years except in 1916, 1940 and 1944, when the events were canceled due to war. The 1940 and 1944 Winter Games were also canceled.
Although the IOC has had to change host cities, it has never had to postpone the Games outside of their designated year.
Perhaps the closest parallel to the current situation in Olympic history was in 1994, when the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, were held just two years after the previous Winter Games in Albertville, France. However, that decision had been made nearly a decade earlier. The IOC voted in 1986 to split the Summer and Winter Games into different years, with Lillehammer being the first in the new system.
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IOC President Thomas Bach called the Olympic Games “the most complex event on this planet,” and the Tokyo 2020 postponement creates a multitude of new challenges. Organizers and Japanese officials now face the gargantuan task of resetting logistics relating to venues and so much more.
Much must also be decided on the sporting side. Seventy-six athletes had already qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team, and hundreds more were well into the process. Fourteen of those athletes had earned their spots directly through their international qualification system, as opposed to a domestic selection process. The IOC confirmed Tuesday that “all athletes already qualified and quota places already assigned for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will remain unchanged,” which protects at least those 14 athletes and the several hundred quota spots the U.S. had already earned across all sports. The IPC also confirmed that Paralympic athletes already qualified will remain qualified, which includes table tennis player Tahl Leibovitz, and taekwondo athletes Evan Medell and Brianna Salinaro.
Several U.S. Olympic Team Trials and other international qualifying events will now need to be rescheduled. Meanwhile, competitions already scheduled in each sport might need to be postponed or canceled to accommodate the new adjusted Games schedule. Among them is the 2021 track and field world championships, a major event in its own right, which was scheduled for Aug. 6-15 in Eugene, Oregon.
The IOC has continued to state these will remain the Games of the XXXII Olympiad and thus continue to have the moniker Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, despite the new host year.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.