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Tokyo Olympics set to begin on July 23, 2021, organizing committee says

Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, speaks at an executive board meeting in Tokyo on Monday.
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, speaks at an executive board meeting in Tokyo on Monday. (Issei Kato/AP)

TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics, postponed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, will begin July 23, 2021, almost exactly a year later than originally scheduled.

The Games had been scheduled to begin July 24, 2020.

“These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organization of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement.

The new dates also minimize disruption to the international sports calendar and provide sufficient time to finish the qualification process, the IOC said.

The IOC and Tokyo organizers again have chosen dates smack in the middle of the hottest, most humid time of year in the Japanese capital, which will help broadcasters and revenue but may be less in the interest of athletes and spectators.

Residents in Fukushima were saddened by the cancellation of the Olympic torch relay, which should have begun in the city March 26 before the Games were delayed. (Video: Reuters)

The new closing date for the Games has been set as Aug. 8, 2021, while the Paralympics are now scheduled to start Aug. 24, 2021, and end Sept. 5, the Tokyo organizing committee and IOC announced Monday.

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IOC President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed last week to postpone the Olympics but also agreed to continue to use the Tokyo 2020 branding even though the Games will be held in 2021.

The new dates were agreed to by Bach, the head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Japan’s Olympics minister and Tokyo’s governor in a conference call Monday.

Bach said he was confident that all sides can “master this unprecedented challenge” of reorganizing the Games by working together.

“Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel,” he said in a statement. “These Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

The Olympic flame arrived in Japan on March 20 and will continue to burn here until the Games are held.

“The schedule for the Games is key to preparing for the Games,” Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press. “This will only accelerate our progress.”

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Bach had said that “all options” were on the table for a new date, including holding the Olympics in the springtime.

But a spring date would have clashed with U.S. sports leagues and European soccer. It would, therefore, have been significantly less attractive to broadcasters, especially NBC, which holds U.S. broadcast rights and supplies a large chunk of the IOC’s revenue for the Games.

Mori said that a spring Olympics was considered but that holding the Games later allows more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak.

“We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify,” he said.

The IOC said the same heat mitigation measures that were planned for this year will be implemented for 2021. Last year, the IOC decided to move the marathons out of Tokyo to the cooler northern city of Sapporo.

Postponing the Olympics presented an avalanche of logistical challenges, but having a new date provides a timeline for organizers and the IOC’s task force to arrange venues, lodging and broadcast schedules. But the date will have significant effects on other events.

The track and field world championships were set to take place Aug. 6-15, 2021, in Eugene, Ore., but World Athletics said it supports the new date for the Olympics.

“This gives our athletes the time they need to get back into training and competition,” it said in a statement. “Everyone needs to be flexible and compromise and to that end we are now working with the organizers of the World Athletics Championships in Oregon on new dates in 2022 for our World Athletics Championships.”

The 2021 world swimming championships are scheduled for July 16-Aug. 1 in Fukuoka, Japan, and officials from FINA, which governs the sport globally, have said they will be flexible with dates but that they are not as interested in postponing their championships for a full year.

“The IOC has had close discussions with the relevant international federations,” Mori said. “I believe the [international federations] have accepted the Games being held in the summer.”

Mori and Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto have warned that the price tag for rescheduling the Olympics will be “massive,” with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.

Venues will have to be rebooked, and the Olympic Village already had sold hundreds of apartments to private parties to occupy after the Games.

Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs and deciding how they will be divided, the AP reported.

“Since it was scheduled for this summer, all the venues had given up hosting any other events during this time, so how do we approach that?” Muto said.

“In addition, there will need to be guarantees when we book the new dates, and there is a possibility this will incur rent payments. So there will be costs incurred and we will need to consider them one by one. I think that will be the tougher process.”

Adam Kilgore and Rick Maese in Washington contributed to this report.

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