The Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo will be postponed for a year, until 2021, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced Tuesday.
The executive board of Tokyo 2020 has scheduled a press conference on Monday that is now expected formally to announce the postponement of the games. The games were scheduled to have started on July 24 and run through to Aug. 9. The Summer Paralympics were set to have run Aug. 25-Sept. 6.
“I proposed to postpone for about a year and (IOC) president (Thomas) Bach responded with 100% agreement,” Abe told reporters.
The IOC had previously acknowledged the growing pressure on the games, caused by the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on travel and athletes’ ability to train and participate in qualifying competition. But the organization said the definitive decision to go ahead or postpone would be made in mid-April.
However, a cancellation or delay became increasingly inevitable when both Canada and Australia on Monday said they would not participate this summer.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committee said that decision needed to made more speedily. It cited the enormous disruption to training and qualifying already wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the committee said in a statement.
As recently as Sunday, the IOC said it would mull scenarios that “relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games.”
But by Monday, Senior IOC member Dick Pound released a statement saying that the IOC had already decided to postpone the Olympics for a year. He said the IOC still needed time to negotiate with the Japanese authorities in order that a clear alternative plan could be proposed. But other IOC members said that Pound was only speaking in a personal capacity.
The postponement — like the coronavirus outbreak — will have a dramatic impact on the TV industry. Comcast, which has the rights to show the Games in the U.S., had been counting on hundreds of hours of coverage of swimming, archery and trampoline gymnastics to lure millions of viewers to its screens in an era when many of them might opt for a streamed movie or TV series.
NBCUniversal has already sold more than 90% of its ad inventory for the Tokyo Games, valued at more than $1.25 billion. The company’s parent, Comcast, agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the U.S. media rights to four Olympics from 2014 to 2020, and $7.75 billion for broadcast rights to the Olympic Games between 2021 and 2032. Discovery in 2015 agreed to pay approximately $1.44 billion for rights to broadcast the four Olympic Games between 2018 and 2024 in Europe.
Postponement is also expected to hurt the Japanese economy. Finance firm, SMBC Nikko Securities said that cancellation would reduce Japan’s GDP this year by 1.4%. It forecast that the games will create JPY670 billion ($6.4 billion) in consumer demand and that canceling it will dent the overall economy by about JPY7.8 trillion ($74 billion).
At the end of 2019, organizers estimated the total cost of the 2020 Tokyo Games to be around JPY1.35 trillion ($12.6 billion). That cost is shared between the city of Tokyo, which is paying JPY597 billion ($5.69 billion), the Japanese organizing committee, which is paying JPY603 billion ($5.74 billion) and the Japan’s central government, which is paying JPY150 billion ($1.42 billion).
Movie theaters may, however, be relieved. They had foreseen the Olympics causing some of the cinema-going public to stay at home in front of their TV sets, and distributors had adjusted their releasing schedules to minimize clash. Recovering from the disruption caused by the coronavirus, releases no longer have a reason to avoid the summer. That is, if theaters are able to reopen by then.