Postponed Tokyo Olympics to open July 23, 2021
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Postponed Tokyo Olympics to open July 23, 2021

Coronavirus forces first ever peacetime postponement of the Games; competition kept in summer despite concerns regarding hot weather

In this March 25, 2020, file, photo, officials light a lantern from the Olympic Flame at the end of a flame display ceremony in Iwaki, northern Japan. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)
In this March 25, 2020, file, photo, officials light a lantern from the Olympic Flame at the end of a flame display ceremony in Iwaki, northern Japan. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — The Tokyo Olympics will begin on July 23 next year, organizers said on Monday, after the coronavirus forced the historic decision to postpone the Games until 2021.

“The Olympics will be held from July 23 to August 8, 2021. The Paralympics will be held from August 24 to September 5,” Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori told reporters at a hastily arranged news conference.

Only hours earlier, Mori had said he expected a decision from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the course of the week.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics were due to open on July 24 this year and run for 16 days, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the first peacetime postponement of the Games.

The IOC and Japan had for weeks insisted the show could go on but the rapid spread of COVID-19 prompted growing disquiet among athletes and sporting federations.

The Olympics was the highest-profile sporting casualty of the coronavirus, which has wiped out fixtures worldwide and all but halted professional sports.

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori answers a question as Chief executive officer of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Toshiro Muto (R) listens during a press conference in Tokyo on March 30, 2020. (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

There was some speculation that Japanese organizers could take advantage of the blank canvas to shift the Games to spring, avoiding the heat of the Tokyo summer that had been their main concern before coronavirus struck.

Due to the heat, the marathon has been moved to Sapporo, a city some 800 kilometers (500 miles) to the north of Tokyo where the weather is cooler even at the height of summer.

The postponement has handed organizers the “unprecedented” task of rearranging an event seven years in the making, and Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto has admitted the additional costs will be “massive.”

According to the latest budget, the Games were due to cost $12.6 billion, shared between the organizing committee, the government of Japan and Tokyo city.

However, that number is hotly contested with a much-publicized government audit suggesting the central government was spending several times that amount — on items organizers claim are only tangentially related to the Olympics.

‘Mankind’s victory’

The postponement affects every aspect of the organization — hotels, ticketing, venues and transportation being among the major headaches.

Hotels have had to cancel bookings, dealing them a bitter blow at a time when tourism is already being hammered by the coronavirus.

Some venues that had booked events years in advance will potentially have to scrap them to make way for the rescheduled Olympics and there is still uncertainty about whether ticket-holders will get refunded.

Another thorny issue is the athletes’ village, which was due to be converted after the Games into luxury apartments, some of which have already found buyers.

Chief executive officer of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Toshiro Muto (R) addresses the media as Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori (C) listens during a press conference in Tokyo on March 30, 2020. (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

The Japanese government had touted the Games as the “Recovery Olympics,” designed to show how the country had bounced back from the 2011 triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in the northeastern Fukushima region.

The Games are now being billed as the expression of humanity’s triumph over the coronavirus.

“We are embarking on an unprecedented challenge,” said Mori earlier Monday.

“But I believe it is the mission of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee to hold the Olympics and Paralympics next year as a proof of mankind’s victory” against the virus.

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