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Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postponed due to COVID-19: Where Do we go From Here?

With coronavirus wreaking havoc worldwide, The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held off for a year. Where does this leave travelers who already planned their trip to Japan?

By 5 min read

After months of speculation, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a joint statement confirming that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be postponed. The announcement comes two days before the Japan section of the Olympic Torch relay was to start in Fukushima.

So, what happened?

Given the IOC’s previously adamant defense against any postponement or cancellation rumors, this is a pretty big backflip. With both Canada and Australia refusing to send their athletes to Japan for the Olympic games due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, however, there was really no other option.

Postponing the games seemed inevitable as coronavirus infection rates continued to grow rapidly in the USA, Italy, and other corners of Europe.

Pop Idol Group Kashima Mikoreena count down the days until the 2020 Olympics near Kashima Stadium which was due to host some of the games.

This is a historical decision as only three Olympic games have ever been canceled since the birth of the modern Olympics. The 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympics were all canceled due to wars.

In general, Tokyo seems to have bad luck when it comes to the Olympics. The city was also meant to hold the 1940 summer event, meaning that Tokyo is now the host of 40% of Olympic games that didn’t happen.

When will the Tokyo 2020 Olympics be held?

The short answer about when the games will happen is that there’s no concrete date as of yet. Abe said following his phone meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach last night that the pair “agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest.

A statement released by the IOC tried to put a positive spin on the event, saying that a 2021 Olympics “could stand as a beacon of hope.” While it does seem like the right decision for everyone involved, there are several concerns regarding scheduling conflicts, ticket refunds, and the blow to the Japanese economy.

Will tickets be refunded?

In February, when the organizers decided to move the Olympic marathon events up north to Sapporo, existing ticket holders were immediately offered refunds. Following this precedent, it’s fair to assume those with tickets will be able to apply for a refund. However, as of this writing, there has been no official statement from the IOC.

“One year to go!” Tokyo 2020 Olympic beer cans sit on supermarket shelves in Tokyo.

While better than a cancellation, postponement of the games is still a nightmare for those who planned to visit Tokyo. Many 2020 Olympic ticket holders have had their travel plans in the works for months and potentially years.

Domestic and international tickets for the 2020 Olympics through authorized resellers have been available since June, many of which were sold as part of a travel package.

Right up until the announcement yesterday evening, such packages were still available. Around 5 million of the total available 7.8 million tickets had been sold. The next phase of ticket sales, accessible to the public, was due to be released in May.

Do not call up and cancel the flight. If the airline cancels your flight … you are eligible for a cash reimbursement.

In terms of flight and accommodation refunds, the outcome will vary depending on the carrier and company. Recent travel bans across the globe have put immense strain on airline companies and their consumer response.

Charles Leocha, president of consumer advocacy group Travelers United, gave some advice in the LA Times: “If you have a flight planned in the next three or four weeks, do not call up and cancel the flight.” This applies even if you don’t want to, or can’t go on the trip as scheduled. “If the airline cancels your flight—and they are canceling flights right and left—you are eligible for a cash reimbursement.”

So, if you can hold tight and wait it out, that’s the best plan of attack. For accommodation, the outcome will depend on the company, so get in touch with them to find out your options.

Why did they wait so late to postpone the Olympic games?

With all the predictions of the COVID-19 spread coming to fruition and the fact that many athletes across the globe haven’t had easy access to gyms and training facilities for a while now, the cynical amongst us are asking why it took the Japanese government and the IOC so long to make the move official.

The reason is multi-faceted, but the two key factors are financial logistics and the sporting schedule. On the financial side of things, most of the areas, stadiums, and hotels had contracts for July 24 to August 9, and while re-doing them is possible, it’s going to come at a huge cost.

The IOC was set to receive around $1 billion from the US National Broadcasting Company (NBC). That contract is now in limbo, as are the thousands of smaller athlete endorsement deals. These accumulated deals spell out a lot of financial uncertainty for all parties involved.

Also, looking at a packed sporting schedule in the next 24-plus months would have been daunting.

What events could 2021 impact?

The biggest question mark over a 2021 games right now is timing clashes with two other international events. In 2021, the World Athletics Championships is set to run between Aug. 6 to Aug. 13 in the US city of Eugene, Oregon, where a new 30,000-capacity stadium is under construction.

The World Athletics released a statement saying they “will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates, including dates in 2022.”

Around the same time, between July 16  and Aug. 1, the FINA World Aquatics Championships were set to take place in Fukuoka.

In a statement released by FINA following the postponement announcement, they said they’d “work closely with the host organizing committee, the Japan Swimming Federation and with the Japanese authorities, in order to determine flexibility around the dates of the competition, if necessary.”

What now?

Good question! Everything is still in a massive state of flux, so the best course of action is to wait it out and see what the IOC and other involved parties do in the coming weeks.

Don’t panic. Stay safe, healthy, and inside if you can, load up Netflix (catch up on all the Studio Ghilbi titles), and keep tuned to GaijinPot and Japan Today for breaking news from here in Japan.

If you were planning on attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, will you attend next year instead? Let us know in the comments.

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