International media reports say the Tokyo Olympics are to be postponed until 2021 after talks between Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, led to confirmation of a decision made inevitable by the coronavirus pandemic.

Abe reportedly said they had established that cancelling the Games was out of the question, and that Bach had agreed “100%” that a postponement was the most appropriate response to the global disruption.

“We agreed that a postponement would be the best way to ensure that the athletes are in peak condition when they compete and to guarantee the safety of the spectators,” Abe told reporters on March 24 shortly after his conference call with Bach, adding that the Games would be held by the summer of 2021, according to The Guardian.

The Games “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community”, the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee said later in a joint statement.

The Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will continue to be called the “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020” even when they are held next year, and the Olympic flame will stay in Japan “as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times”.

It is most likely that the Games will be staged in July 2021 when there are fewer sporting events due to take place.  World Athletics has already indicated that it will be happy to shift its 2021 championships, which are due to take place in Eugene to 2022, and Fina, the organizers of the 2021 swimming world championships, in Japan next July, have said they will also follow suit.

The postponement is a blow to the host country, which has spent more than US$12 billion on the event, while huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.

Goldman Sachs (an American multinational investment bank and financial services company) reportedly estimated this month that Japan would lose US$4.5 billion (550 billion yen) in inbound and domestic consumption in 2020 if the Olympics did not take place as planned.