The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed until next year because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
The event, due to begin on 24 July, will now take place “no later than summer 2021”.
“I proposed to postpone for a year and [IOC] president Thomas Bach responded with 100 per cent agreement,” said Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister.
The event will still be called Tokyo 2020 despite taking place in 2021.
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In a joint statement, the organisers of Tokyo 2020 and the IOC said: “The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating.
“On Monday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the Covid-19 pandemic is ‘accelerating’.
“There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.
“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today [Tuesday], 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 also noted that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan, saying it “could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present”.
The IOC had given itself a deadline of four weeks to consider delaying the Games but there had been mounting pressure from a host of Olympic committees and athletes demanding a quicker decision.
International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parson said the postponement was “the only logical option”.
He added: “The health and wellbeing of human life must always be our number one priority and staging a sporting event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible.
“Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is. It is essential, therefore, that all steps are taken to try to limit the spread of this disease.
“By taking this decision now, everyone involved in the Paralympic movement, including all Para-athletes, can fully focus on their own health and wellbeing and staying safe during this unprecedented and difficult time.”
The Olympics have never been delayed in their 124-year modern history, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during World War One and World War Two.
Major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles summer Games in 1980 and 1984.