The 2020 Olympic Games will be suspended for a year, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday, ending weeks of speculation over the fate of the world's biggest sporting event amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Abe told reporters that the Tokyo Games, which were scheduled to begin on July 254, will be held in the summer of 2021 "at the latest". The decision was taken following a call between Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
"We asked President Bach to consider postponement of about one year to make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition, and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators," Abe said. "President Bach said he is in agreement 100%."
The decision to postpone the Games, which were awarded to Japan in 2013, could be a major blow to the world's third-largest economy, which is already suffering its sharpest declines in decades amid the escalating pandemic.
However, with USA Track and Field officials threatening to keep its athletes at home this summer, and Canada, Australia and New Zealand formally withdrawing from the event if it were held this summer, neither Japan nor the IOC were left with many options for the sporting world's signature event.
Japan, with its proximity to the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, is uniquely susceptible to its spread and has already confirmed at least 1,100 cases of the respiratory-focused disease.
Walt Disney Co's (DIS) - Get Report Tokyo Disneyland, as well as its DisneySea theme park, were closed last month, just 24 hours after Abe took the unprecedented step of closing the nation's schools for a least a month in an effort to thwart the virus, while the island state of Hokkaido has declared an official state of emergency for its 5 million residents.
Japan's professional baseball league, meanwhile, played most of its pre-season games, which ended on March 15, in empty stadiums around the country.