TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021 on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation that the games could not go ahead as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The International Golf Federation, the world governing body for golf recognized by the International Olympic Committee, released a statement of support after the announcement was made.
“The International Golf Federation supports the decision made by the IOC and Tokyo 2020 to postpone the Olympic Games until 2021 given the exceptional environment and the challenges that we are all confronting,” the IGF statement said. “We will work with them to address how this decision affects our sport and our athletes and to develop the necessary plans to resolve these. We remain fully committed to providing safe and fair golf competitions and a memorable experience for our athletes when these Olympic games are held in 2021.”
The IOC made the decision after speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers. The IOC said the games will be held “not later than summer 2021” but they will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, 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 IOC said in a statement.
At the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, golf returned as an Olympic sport for the first time in 112 years, with two 72-hole stroke-play events, one each for men and women. Both fields consisted of 60 players.
Britain’s Justin Rose (gold), Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (silver) and USA’s Matt Kuchar (bronze) won medals in the men’s tournament, while Korea’s Imbee Park (gold), New Zealand’s Lydia Ko (silver) and China’s Shanshan Feng (bronze) won medals in the women’s competition.
This year’s Olympic competition was to be held at Kasumigaseki Country Club outside Tokyo, utilizing the same format as in 2016. The 60-player fields for the two tournaments were to be determined via a qualification system ending in late June.
That qualifying system calls for the top 15 world-ranked players to be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from a given country. Beyond the top 15, players will be eligible based on the world rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top-15. For the men, the Official World Golf Ranking is utilized.
Before the official announcement, Abe said Bach had agreed with his proposal for a one-year postponement.
“President Bach said he will agree ‘100%,’ and we agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest,” Abe said, saying holding the games next year would be “proof of a victory by human beings against the coronavirus infections.”
On Sunday, Bach said a decision on postponing the games would be made in the next four weeks. But pressure grew as national federations, sports governing bodies and athletes spoke out against having the opening ceremony as planned on July 24.
The decision came only a few hours after local organizers said the torch relay would start as planned on Thursday. It was expected to start in northeastern Fukushima prefecture, but with no torch, no torchbearers and no public. Those plans also changed.
“For the time being, the flame will be stored and displayed in Fukushima,” organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said.
The Olympics have never before been postponed and have only ever previously been canceled in wartime.
One reason the IOC took longer to make the decision was because it wanted to figure out logistics. It will be a daunting challenge. Many of the arenas, stadiums and hotels are under contract for a games held from July 24-August 7. Remaking those arrangements is doable, but will come at a cost. Tokyo has already spent a reported $28 billion to stage the games.
Organizers will now have to figure out how to keep things running for another year, while making sure venues are up to date for possible another 12 months.
“A lot can happen in one year, so we have to think about what we have to do,” said Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee. “The decision came upon us all of a sudden.”
The IOC and Tokyo organizers said they hope the decision to postpone will help the world heal from the pandemic.
“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,” the IOC statement said. “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.”