UPDATE, 1:45pm EDT March 23: Veteran International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA TODAY that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are going to be postponed, most likely until 2021. This story is developing.
The International Olympic Committee has heard the outcry from athletes and sports organizations around the world, asking whether the Summer Games in Tokyo will be held, canceled or postponed, and today responded.
IOC president Thomas Bach issued a letter to athletes announcing his organization has begun the process of deciding what to do, and has set a deadline for that decision to be finalized: four weeks.
“Together with all the stakeholders, we have started detailed discussions today to complete our assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including a scenario of postponement,” Bach wrote. “We are working very hard, and we are confident that we will have finalised these discussions within the next four weeks.”
Bach made one thing clear: canceling the Olympic Games is off the table.
“Cancellation of the Olympic Games would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees, from the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, most likely for the Paralympic athletes, and for all the people who are supporting you as coaches, doctors, officials, training partners, friends and family. Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody. Therefore it is not on our agenda.”
Bach also explained why it will not simply postpone the games today, citing what he called “uncertain developments in both directions: an improvement, as we are seeing in a number of countries thanks to the severe measures being taken, or a deteriorating situation in other countries.”
“Contrary to other sports events, to postpone the Olympic Games is an extremely complex challenge,” Bach said in his letter. “A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore. The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted.”
And that’s not all of the complications.
But even though Bach said this process of making a call has only just begun, he did explain that throughout the developments of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, the IOC has been getting advice from a task force that includes the World Health Organization, and looking at a variety of scenarios.
Bach is himself an Olympic athlete.
“As a fellow Olympian, I hope that you can understand our challenge, and accept and support our principles which are to safeguard your, your families’ and everyone’s health, and to keep your Olympic dream alive.”
“As successful athletes, you know that we should never give up, even if the chance to succeed appears to be very small,” wrote Bach. “Our commitment to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is based on this experience. It is our experience as athletes that you must always be ready to adapt to new situations.”
Bach wrote that it his and the IOC’s hope that “at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.”
Read the full letter to Olympic athletes from IOC President Thomas Bach by clicking here.