More bad news for sports fans, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games are the largest event to be suspended by coronavirus (COVID-19). The Olympics were scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan from July 24 to Aug. 9. An estimated 10,000 athletes from around the world were set to participate and 600,000 fans were expected to attend, according to TIME.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the coronavirus has spread to 30 countries since the initial outbreak in December. After much deliberation, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made the decision to postpone the games. Currently, the International Olympic Committee estimates that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be postponed until 2021 and details will be forthcoming within the next four weeks.
“This is an unprecedented situation for the whole world, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this crisis. We are in solidarity with the whole of society to do everything to contain the virus,” the IOC said in a statement published on March 17.
This announcement came after the Canadian and Australian teams announced they would not send athletes if the Olympics were not postponed and the U.S.A Track and Field (USATF) wrote an open letter to the IOC calling for postponement.
Despite the inevitable disappointment, many athletes are in support of the decision to cancel the 2020 Olympics. As U.S. sprinter Manteo Mitchell told Bloomberg, coronavirus precautions had interrupted his training and workout schedule. Not only were his training facility and backup gyms closed but U.S Team trials were canceled.
“It would be more responsible to postpone the Olympics,” said Ysaora Thibus, a French fencer who is training in Los Angeles, told Bloomberg. “We want to be examples and show what are the good things to do in a difficult moment, and we know sport isn’t the priority now. The more important thing is to be safe.”
This marks the first time the Olympics have been suspended due to public health concerns. Since the first Olympics was hosted in Athens in 1896, there have been a number of war-time cancellations and political boycotts that affected the games.
1916 Summer Olympics
The 1916 Berlin Summer Olympics were canceled due to the outbreak of World War I. Almost 30 years later, Berlin was able to host the 1936 Summer Olympics. According to TIME, 5,000 athletes from 51 countries competed.
1940 Summer and Winter Olympic Games
Tokyo lost out on the 1940 Summer Olympics and the 1944 Winter Olympics. Tokyo initially won the bid to host the 1940 Olympics in 1936 but later forfeited their hosting duties when war broke out with China in 1937.
Helsinki, Finland and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany stepped up to host but the 1940s games were canceled anyway due to the outbreak of World War II.
1944 Summer Olympics
Dubbed the “lost Olympics” by historians, the 1944 London Summer Olympics were canceled due to WWII. Despite the circumstances, the IOC hosted a small ceremony in Switzerland to celebrate the spirit of international cooperation.
Four years later, London hosted the 1948 Summer Olympics despite wartime austerity measures. More than 4,000 athletes from 59 nations attended and were housed in military barracks, schools, and hostels.
In addition to wartime cancellations, political disagreements and international tensions have also led to countries boycotting or protesting the Olympics.
1980 Summer Olympics
The only U.S.-led Olympic boycott took place at the 1980 Summer Moscow Olympics. The decision not to attend was a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. In an interview with Meet the Press, President Jimmy Carter called for the Olympics to be postponed, moved, or canceled unless the Soviet Army left Afghanistan. There was popular support for the boycott from both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Carter’s measure to boycott passed 386 to 12 in the House and 88 to 4 in the Senate.
According to Politico, 55 percent of Americans were in favor of the boycott but, understandably, most athletes were not. Carter recruited heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali as an ambassador of the boycott. Ali later rescinded his support. Despite Ali’s unenthusiastic support, almost 60 countries, including Japan, West Germany, China, and Canada joined the boycott. Although only 81 nations participated, 36 world records were set during the 1980 Olympics.
1984 Summer Olympics
After the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics, the Soviet Union, East Germany, and 12 other countries did not attend the 1984 Olympics hosted in Los Angeles, CA. The Soviet Union cited security concerns for their athletes and anti-communist sentiments as their reason not to attend. The U.S. won a record 83 gold medals and hosted the first women’s marathon, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and the women’s cycling events.
The Soviet Union hosted the Friendship Games which they were careful not to describe as an alternative to the Olympics. The Friendship Games consisted of 2,000 athletes from 40 countries competing in track and field, cycling, swimming, rowing, yachting, basketball, field hockey, and two shooting events.