Every sporting event from the NBA season to the Kentucky Derby has been cancelled or postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan are no exception. On March 24, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in conjunction with the Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee, announced that the 2020 Olympic Games would be postponed until summer 2021. The official dates are set for Friday, July 23, 2021 through Sunday, August 8, 2021, still to be held in Tokyo, Japan.
This is the first time in the history of the Olympics that the Games have been postponed. Twice the Games have been cancelled (WWI and WWII), but they have never postponed, until now. They will maintain the name “Tokyo 2020” because the IOC hopes these Games will symbolize the “light at the end of the tunnel” for this pandemic. They hope that keeping the name and not cancelling the event will serve as a reminder for people of the world that this pandemic will come to an end at some point. It also keeps alive the Olympic dreams of over 11,000 athletes globally.
Because the postponement came so close to the start of the Games, many athletes had already qualified for their spot representing their country. Any athlete that has already qualified is able to maintain their status unless otherwise specified by their home country. For the United States, one of the biggest events in the summer Olympics is swimming, and the U.S. Olympic Trials had not occurred before the announcement. Therefore, the trials meet has been postponed to next summer as well, giving the athletes another year to prepare, for better or worse. The new date for the U.S. Olympic Trials, considered one of the hardest swim meets in the world, is scheduled for June 13-20, 2021 in Omaha, NE. For other events, such as surfing and the marathon, the U.S. representatives have already been named and will therefore spend the next year training for their spot on an Olympic podium, not to make the team.
Team USA announced on April 14 that there have been new updates to qualification age restrictions for gymnastics and soccer because of the postponement. In gymnastics, it is required that to qualify for the Olympics, you must turn 16 in the Olympic year. Now, gymnasts born in 2005 are eligible to compete for one of the lucrative spots on Team USA rather than athletes born in 2004 being the youngest. For soccer, the age limit is 23, but this change in dates now opens up some standout under-24 players for the USA roster.
Since the announcement, a new task force has been created to focus solely on the transition of the Games from this summer to next summer. The force, named the “Here We Go” force, is a subgroup of the Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission in charge of determining the most pressing issues created by moving the date. They are out to answer questions ranging from “what will happen to the Olympic Village?” to qualification issues for athletes that have, and haven’t yet, qualified. They also have to figure out the financial issues of moving the Games because this will affect sponsorships and other financial obligations.
The IOC is also working with other governing bodies of sports globally because of how moving the Olympics will affect other competition calendars. World Championship and other major sporting events could be affected by the calendar change, both with COVID-19 and now the changing of the Olympics. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games hasn’t been affected yet.
The Olympic Torch Relay had already begun before the postponement was announced, so it has been agreed that the torch will remain in Japan throughout the period of postponement. The IOC said, “Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel. These [Games] can be a light at the end of this tunnel.”
Sports fans globally look forward to the Olympics every two years, especially the Summer Games, and it is crushing for athletes and fans alike to wait another year. But in the current state of the world, it is understandable. On the bright side, this means that we have back-to-back Olympic years!