Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021

David Wharton
The Olympic rings on display in Tokyo.  (Carl Court / Getty Images)

Vowing to overcome the “unprecedented challenge” of the COVID-19 pandemic, Olympic leaders announced Monday that the 2020 Tokyo Games will be rescheduled for mid-summer of 2021.

The July 23–Aug. 8 dates fall almost exactly a year after the global sporting event was originally scheduled to be held this year.

“Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. “These Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

IOC officials and Tokyo organizers issued their joint statement a day after reports that COVID-19 cases were rising sharply in Japan’s capital city, with the potential for a public lockdown.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike vowed that her metropolitan government will “commit all its resources” to creating a safe atmosphere for approximately 11,000 athletes and hundreds of thousands of fans.

“In consideration of the global coronavirus outbreak, we need a certain time frame before we fully prepare for the delivery of Games that are safe and secure for the athletes and spectators,” Koike said.

The Paralympic Games were also rescheduled to take place from Aug. 24–Sept. 5, with an International Paralympic Committee official saying: “It it is fantastic news that we could find new dates so quickly.”

Only a week ago, the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee — facing pressure from athletes and member nations worldwide — agreed to a postponement. Over the course of a century, the modern Olympics had previously been canceled during World Wars but never shifted.

Officials decided to keep “2020” in the official name of the Tokyo Games so that extensive merchandise already created can be sold as is. Finding a new date was more complex, requiring a compromise among the Olympic movement’s vast web of stakeholders, including television broadcasters and the 33 international federations that each govern a sport.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach  (Denis Balibouse / AFP via Getty Images)

Bach initially said “all the options are on the table” when it came to rescheduling, with springtime under consideration. But officials had indicated last week they favored a summer window.

The late-July start provides breathing room given that numerous qualifiers and major competitions have been postponed because of the pandemic. In many parts of the world, training facilities have been closed.

“A certain amount of time is required for the selection and qualification of athletes and for their training and preparation,” said Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo 2020 president. “And the consensus was that staging the rescheduled Games during the summer vacation in Japan would be preferable.”

The decision should be popular among athletes who have faced growing uncertainty since the onset of the coronavirus late last year.

“I can’t wait to get back to training,” Natalya Coyle, who will represent Ireland in the pentathlon, posted on social media.

Broadcasters should also be happy. A springtime date would have plopped the Olympics into the middle of the pro basketball, hockey and baseball seasons in the United States, and a busy soccer schedule in Europe. Summer offers more room for sports content on television.

There would be a conflict with the previously scheduled track and swimming world championships, also in Japan, but that international federation has already expressed a willingness to adapt. On Monday, the international track federation announced it will shift its 2021 world championships to the following year.

“Everyone needs to be flexible and compromise,” the international track federation said in a statement.

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 promised that disruption to other scheduled events will be kept to a minimum, adding: “These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organization of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”