No gold, silver or bronze medals. No parade of athletes for opening and closing ceremonies. No world records, no heartbreaking moments of loss, no glorious moments of victory. Not this summer.
The Tokyo Olympics were officially postponed Tuesday after Japan and the International Olympic Committee reached an agreement to delay the Summer Games to 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the announcement following a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach.
The decision came amid global pressure to suspend or cancel the event. A day earlier the U.S. joined a growing list of countries calling for a delay after Australia and Canada announced they would not send their athletes.
In a statement, the IOC said the Olympics, which were set to begin July 24 and last until Aug. 9, “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021.”
The Olympics now join a list of major sporting events to be called off or delayed due to the coronavirus. Within the last two weeks, the NBA, NHL, MLS and MLB all halted their respective seasons and the NCAA canceled its basketball tournaments and spring sports. The moves were made as the virus continued to rapidly spread, now reaching more than 400,000 cases worldwide.
Tuesday marked the first time in history that the Olympics had been postponed, though the event had been canceled on three other occasions (1916, 1940 and 1944) because of war.
The postponement will have sweeping financial and competitive ramifications for athletes, the host country and sports in general, Syracuse University marketing professor Rick Burton said.
“The Olympics are the largest global sport property,” said Burton, the chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2008. “The Olympics have 33 different summer sports, 200-plus countries and we know that roughly two-thirds of the world’s population sees some component of the games and opening ceremonies … because that’s what gets featured on their local TV.
“This is a massive disruption.”
The delay will also impact revenues for broadcasters, advertisers and a long list of others. NBC alone paid more than $1 billion for television rights.
The athletes themselves — many of whom have been training their entire lives for an opportunity to represent their country — will also have to live with the delay.
Participants like Team USA air rifle shooter Lucas Kozeniesky saw how quickly the sports world shifted due to the coronavirus. The 24-year-old, who attended high school in Virginia, said last week he was still trying to determine how to go about his time with events getting increasingly canceled by the day.
“It’s heartbreaking to lose all these competitions,” Kozeniesky said. “Especially for such a huge buildup for this season, and then for the next two months there’s nothing.”
Other athletes reacted to the news on Twitter. Five-time Olympic swimming champion and Bethesda, Maryland, native Katie Ledecky wrote that now is a time to focus the global health crisism not sports.
“As we stand together to meet today’s challenges, we can dream about a wonderful Olympics in a beautiful country,” she tweeted. “Now is the time to support all those working to heal the sick and keep us all healthy.”
Hurdler Lolo Jones uploaded a video of her over-pouring candy into a bowl with the caption, “No box of Wheaties for me today.”
American sprinter Noah Lyles, who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, even used the delay as motivation for next year.
“Straight up I’m tired of hearing I’m sorry like my puppy just died,” Lyles tweeted. “We will overcome this like everything (else) and then go Win the Gold in 2021!”
Burton said the IOC didn’t have “any other choice” but postponement.
“You can’t ask people to die for their country in the names of sports,” Burton said. “It’s a twist of a phrase to say, ‘I’m not going to die for my sport,’ but I think that’s essentially what the athletes were saying, and if they weren’t saying it, then the organizing committee and the IOC were saying, ‘We can’t ask you to make that potential sacrifice because there’s no upside for us.’”