Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2021 World Athletics Championships may be rescheduled to accommodate new dates of Olympics. 2021 World Aquatics Championships too exploring similar options.

Please see update at the end of the article as well; new dates have been announced. 

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been “ rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021,’’ an official statement dated March 24, available on the website of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said.

According to the statement, the decision followed a conference call between Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan and Thomas Bach, President, IOC. They were joined by Mori Yoshiro, the President of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee; the Olympic Minister, Hashimoto Seiko; the Governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko; the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission, John Coates; IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper; and the IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, Christophe Dubi.

“ 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 statement said.

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.

Speculation about the 2020 Olympics – whether it will be held on schedule or postponed – had been in the air for a while. While the IOC maintained that the Games would be held on schedule with indication of rethink emanating only recently, some sports bodies and athletes clearly said that prevailing conditions were not ideal. Further, Australia and Canada announced that they will not be sending their squads to the Games if it was to take place over July 24-August 9 as scheduled earlier.

News reports on the postponement of the Games pointed out that the two major disciplines of swimming and athletics will be having their respective world championships in 2021. The 2021 World Aquatics Championships is expected to be held in Fukuoka, Japan from July 16 to August 1 while the 2021 World Athletics Championships is due in Eugene, Oregon, USA from August 6-15.

In a separate statement dated March 24, 2020, available on their website, World Athletics, while welcoming the decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, informed that they have been in talks with the organizers of the 2021 World Athletics Championships to reschedule the event if required.

“ World Athletics welcomes the decision of the IOC and the Japanese Government to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021. It is what athletes want and we believe this decision will give all athletes, technical officials and volunteers some respite and certainty in these unprecedented and uncertain times, ‘’ the statement said. It added that World Athletics will “ continue to do whatever it can to preserve and create an outdoor season of one-day meetings in 2020, starting and ending later than usual, so athletes, when they are able and it is safe to, will have access to competitions in every region. This will help them benchmark their performances and adjust their training accordingly for an Olympic Games in 2021. In light of this announcement, we will also expedite our current review of the Olympic qualification system, in cooperation with the IOC, and release any changes to the process as soon as possible so athletes know where they stand.

“ World Athletics stands ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date for the Olympic Games in 2021 and has already been in discussion with the Organizing Committee of the World Athletics Championships Oregon 21 regarding the possibility of moving the dates of this highly popular worldwide event. They have assured us that they will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates, including dates in 2022.’’

FINA, the international governing body for swimming, has also said it will explore flexibility regarding the dates of the 2021 World Aquatics Championships. In a statement dated March 24, available on FINA’s website, the organization said that following the joint announcement by the IOC and the organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, concerning the postponement of the Games to 2021, FINA will work closely with the host organizing committee of the 2021 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, the Japan Swimming Federation and Japanese public authorities, to “ determine flexibility around the dates of the competition, “ if necessary and in agreement with the IOC.”

Update: New dates have been announced for the 2020 Olympic Games, recently shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tokyo Olympic Games will now be held over July 23-August 8, 2021 and the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5, 2021. This is as per a statement dated March 30, 2020, available on the website of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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