TOKYO • The Tokyo Olympics, postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, is likely to open on July 23 next year, according to people familiar with the matter.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese organisers last week bowed to widespread pressure from athletes, sports federations and national Olympic committees to push back the Games, but left the new date in question.
The IOC said a final decision could come in weeks, but it is now much more likely to be announced earlier, possibly within days.
Japanese state broadcaster NHK on Saturday night also reported July 23, 2021, as the new target opening date, while Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo organising committee, said “some kind of conclusion” will be reached by the end of the week.
When asked about its likelihood, Mark Adams, an IOC spokesman, called it “speculation”, but the decision to pick an almost identical date to this year’s event, which had been set for July 24, is not particularly surprising, given the challenges to squeeze the Olympics into an already packed sporting calendar.
It also is the best time for broadcaster NBC, which pays more than US$1 billion (S$1.43 billion) for American media rights to each Games.
It does, however, mean the quadrennial multi-sport event will still take place during Tokyo’s hottest time of the year, an issue that had caused worry and complications.
The marathon and race-walking events were moved to the northern city of Sapporo after an outcry, with organisers planning several steps to try to keep spectators and competitors cool.
On a conference call in the past week with Thomas Bach, the IOC president, some federations, including those representing swimming, table tennis, triathlon and equestrian, had voiced a preference to hold the Olympics in the spring.
That, though, would have led to a clash with the seasons for major European leagues and many of the richest American sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association (NBA).
USA Basketball had warned it would have to draw up an alternative roster as a spring Games would coincide with next season’s play-offs, with players like NBA star LeBron James likely to be ruled out.
PUTTING PIECES IN PLACE
A Games has never been postponed before. We have no blueprint, but we are nevertheless confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and will then in the end have a wonderful Olympics.
THOMAS BACH, IOC president, on the unprecedented postponement.
I think we are racing against time.
TOSHIRO MUTO, Tokyo 2020 chief executive, on managing the rescheduling.
The IOC also wanted to be sure to steer clear of football’s Euro 2020, which was also moved back a year to start in June 11, 2021 until July 11 due to Covid-19.
The road to perhaps the biggest obstacle was cleared when the head of global track and field’s governing body, Sebastian Coe, announced he was open to moving the athletics world championships, set for next summer in Eugene, Oregon, to even 2022.
Bach, who has endured plenty of criticism over his handling of the Covid-19 crisis, described reorganising the Games as a challenge that would pay off.
Among the issues organisers face are contracts worth billions of dollars with broadcast partners and sponsors, as well as securing venues and maintaining key infrastructure that would need to be mothballed for an extra year.
“A Games has never been postponed before,” he said. “We have no blueprint, but we are nevertheless confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and will then in the end have a wonderful Olympics.”
The traditional July-August date means the IOC will likely be able to call on the presence of top football, tennis, golf and basketball players.
They include some of the biggest names in global sport and are a big attraction for television audiences.
Once a date has been set, the next challenge will be to reorganise qualification competitions disrupted by the contagion and Bach has confirmed that athletes who have already qualified will be guaranteed a place in Tokyo.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES