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Coronavirus vs the Olympics: How will the Covid-19 pandemic affect the Tokyo 2020 Games?

We're tracking the latest updates on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in light of the global pandemic

By Kasey Furutani
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The unthinkable finally happened. Due to Covid-19 coronavirus, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed to 2021. The Olympics will now run from July 23 to August 8 2021 and the Paralympics will be held from August 24 until September 5 2021. The new dates were confirmed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

So what happens next? There’s no way to predict what will happen this year, so the best thing to do is stay informed. Here are all the latest updates on the status of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 

RECOMMENDED: Time In Tokyo: Experience Japan from your home

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[April 7] Tokyo 2020 qualified athletes can still compete in 2021

The Olympics have already been postponed to 2021 but what about the athletes who have already secured their hard-earned qualification? Under the Revised Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Qualification Principles, the 57 percent already qualified to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are still able to compete in next year’s Games, which leaves around 5,000 spots open. The updated qualification deadline has been moved to June 29 2021 and each sport’s International Federations will establish their own qualification regulations.

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[April 7] Olympic torch viewing cancelled

Well, that didn’t last long. The Olympic torch, which arrived in Fukushima before the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games, was on display for a limited public viewing until April 30. Due to the increasing number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases and subsequent state of emergency declaration, local organisers have decided to cancel the torch viewing. As of now, there are no immediate plans to display the torch to the public. 

tokyo 2020 torch
Photo: Tokyo 2020

[April 3] Olympic torch is on display

Even though the Tokyo 2020 Games have been postponed to 2021, the Olympic torch is still in Japan. The torch is currently on display until April 30 (from April 2) at the J-Village National Training Centre in Fukushima, with opportunities for limited public viewing.

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Tokyo National Stadium, Olympics Stadium
Photo: F11photo/Dreamstime

[March 30] New dates confirmed for Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics

News City Life

Less than a week after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics have been officially postponed due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed new dates for the Games.  The Olympics will now run from July 23 to August 8 2021 whereas the Paralympics will be held from August 24 until September 5 2021. 

tokyo 2020 torch
Photo: Tokyo 2020

[March 24] Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay has also been cancelled, to be rescheduled

News City Life

In light of the official decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the torch relay, set to commence on March 26 in Fukushima, is now cancelled as well. The new date is still undecided but the Games will be held no later than summer 2021. The torch relay will then be rescheduled once the new date for the Games is confirmed. The Olympic flame, however, will remain in Japan. 

The decision was announced by Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee president, after a conference call with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto and IOC chief Thomas Bach. 

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics - stock image
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[March 24] Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are postponed over coronavirus

News City Life

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, which are originally set to begin in July this year, will now be postponed due to the escalating Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the president of International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, have agreed, via a phone conference on March 24, to delay the Games for about a year. No new dates have been set yet, but the Games will be held latest by summer 2021. 

[March 24] Olympic torch relay to be held without spectators, car to deliver torch instead

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the possible postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games, the Olympic torch relay will be held without spectators. Instead of the usual torch bearers, the flame will travel by car through the regions of Tohoku heavily hit by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. The torch relay, or ‘Torch Visit’ as it’s known now, will start on Thursday March 26 in Fukushima. 

Future plans regarding the rest of the Olympic torch relay will depend on the status of the Tokyo 2020 Games. 

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Tokyo National Stadium, Olympics Stadium
Photo: F11photo/Dreamstime

[March 24] No official decision from IOC on the postponement of Tokyo 2020 Olympics

News City Life

IOC member Dick Pound, who speculated on the cancellation of the Olympics back in February, told USA Today that the Tokyo 2020 Games will be postponed. USA Today reports: ‘“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in a phone interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”’ 

Japan Today reports that despite the IOC members voicing their opinion the IOC has the final call on whether or not the Games are postponed.

In other words, the postponement of the Games is not confirmed and IOC president Thomas Bach will ‘guide the final decision’.  

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - stock image
Photo: Dreamstime/Pakpoom Phummee

[March 23] Prime Minister Abe hints at postponing the Olympics, Canada pulls out of Tokyo 2020

News City Life

According to a report by The Japan Times, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games may be an option if holding the event in its ‘complete form’ becomes impossible amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Canada announced it will not be sending athletes to the Olympics unless the event is postponed until 2021; it is the first team to do so. Australia, on the other hand, has not backed out of the 2020 Games yet, although the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has told the athletes to prepare for the Games to take place in 2021. New Zealand, Brazil, Norway and Slovenia have also push

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[March 19] March 26 torch relay in Fukushima will be held without spectators

As of today, the Olympic torch relay will go ahead as planned. The Japan Times reported that the event, however, will be significantly modified to avoid large crowds and the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus. Organizing Committee CEO Toshiro Muto reports that the first day of the relay, on March 26 in Fukushima, will still be held but without any spectators and welcoming ceremonies will be cancelled.

[March 17] IOC is 'fully committed' to the Olympics

On March 17 the IOC released a statement saying it is 'fully committed' to the Games and that 'there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive.' The IOC is also encouraging athletes 'to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can'.

'We will continue to act in a responsible way and have agreed the following overriding principles about the staging of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020:

1. To protect the health of everyone involved and to support the containment of the virus.
2. To safeguard the interests of the athletes and of Olympic sport.'

Read the official statement here.

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[March 15] Abe prepares for Olympics as scheduled

At a press conference on Saturday March 14, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo and Japan will continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as scheduled. According to Japan Today, Abe and the IOC will work together closely: ‘We hope to overcome the spread of infections first and foremost and hold the Olympics as planned without a hitch,’ Abe said.

[March 13] Olympic torch relay in Greece has been cancelled

In an official statement, the IOC announced it has cancelled the Greek leg of the Olympic torch relay, a decision reached in conjunction with the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) and the Greek Ministry of Health. The handover to Tokyo on March 19 and the Japan leg of the torch relay on March 26 are still scheduled. 

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[March 12] IOC ‘fully committed’ to the Olympics

The IOC delivered an official statement saying it is ‘fully committed to delivering the Olympic Games’. The IOC is currently working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Japanese government and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee. 

Read more

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