The IOC and the Japanese government officially postponed the Tokyo Games this morning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, promising to hold the event at some point in the first nine months of '21. The news comes after a growing chorus of demands from Olympic athletes and national federations to delay the Games. In a statement released shortly after 9:00am ET (10:00pm in Tokyo), Olympic officials said the Games will continue to be styled as "Tokyo 2020," and would be conducted after '20 but "not later than summer 2021." "The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present," the IOC's statement reads. "Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan." The announcement was widely expected after the IOC said Sunday it was considering postponement, but nevertheless, sports leaders and businesses welcomed the confirmation. The Paralympics, set to start three weeks after the Olympics, also has been postponed, the IPC said in a statement.
PLENTY OF QUESTIONS REMAIN: Attention now shifts to a slew of virtually unprecedented questions that arise regarding athlete qualification, training, business contracts and logistics a year later. "I wish I had answers to every question out there, but the reality is this decision is unprecedented, and therefore, presents an entirely new process -- for you, for the organizers, for the NGBs and for the USOPC," said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland in a letter to athletes. "Please know we are committed to working with you in the coming days, weeks, and months to address them together." Broadcast rightsholder NBC released a statement saying "we fully understand" the decision given the coronavirus outbreak. "We have no doubt that the IOC and Tokyo Organizing Committee will put on an exceptional Games next year, and that the Olympic flame will once again unite the world and provide a light at the end of this tunnel," the NBC statement reads. NBC, which had sold $1.25B worth of ads for Tokyo, also said it is “actively working with our advertisers” to explore their options in light of the postponement. NBC in '11 agreed to pay $1.41B to the IOC for the Tokyo Games.
EVENTS, SPONSORS TO BE IMPACTED: While there has been some talk that the Japanese might want to conduct the '21 Games in the spring, conventional wisdom in the Olympics industry holds that a delay of precisely one year would cause the fewest scheduling problems. However, that would force changes to the '21 World Athletes Championships, currently slated for next July at the Univ. of Oregon. Most of the IOC's global sponsors and broadcasters, including NBC Universal and Discovery Communications, are on long-term contracts. However, all domestic USOPC sponsors' deals expire at the end of '20, along with global deals for Dow, GE and Procter & Gamble. It was not immediately clear how those rights will be handled. Every sport federation, with input from the national Olympic Committees, will have to determine how to handle qualifying rules. About 20% of the U.S. team for '20 had already qualified.
NBC'S TIRICO CHIMES IN: NBC's Mike Tirico, who anchors the net's primetime Olympics coverage, noted during an appearance this morning on NBC's "Today" that the developments with the Tokyo Games "all spiraled very, very quickly as paralleled the disease's outbreak across the world," which led to this "inevitable" outcome. Tirico said, "Some folks (are) wondering why it didn't happen sooner, but you have to remind everyone this was scheduled for four months from now and it takes seven years to put an Olympic Games together. It's hard to just snap a finger and say, 'This isn't going to happen.' Eventually, they got to the right place about as quickly as you can in this situation." He added making an Olympics team is a "once-in-a-lifetime thing for so many athletes," so the postponement will allow them to "be able to repeat their readiness in 2021 as they were trying to get ready for July of 2020."