Postponed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be first to be cancelled since WWII

Postponed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo may not take place until 2023 (Photo: Shutterstock)

The fate of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games is currently unclear, with local officials claiming the games are unlikely to go ahead. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) maintains that they will take place.

The Tokyo games have already been delayed once, and are due to begin on 23 July, but a recent uptick in Covid cases in the city and surrounding areas has called this into question.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

If the Olympics were cancelled, this would also write off the Paralympic Games, which take place in the same host city just after the Olympic Games.

Speaking to The Times, a senior member of Japan’s ruling coalition said that “no one wants to be the first to say so”, but that the games are unlikely to go ahead, as “the consensus is that it’s too difficult”.

It has been reported that Tokyo will instead focus on hosting the games in 2032, the next available year, as Paris and Los Angeles have already been awarded the 2024 and 2028 games, respectively.

‘No plan B’

However, the IOC and board in Tokyo have publicly denied that the games will be cancelled, saying in a statement that “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organising committee, IOC and IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are fully focused on hosting the games this summer”.

Speaking to a Japanese news agency on Thursday (21 Jan), IOC president Thomas Bach said: “We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games will not open on 23 July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo. There is no plan B.”

The city of Tokyo has spent the equivalent of £18.2 billion on organising the Olympics, largely using public funds, but public opinion has now turned against the games, with 80 per cent of residents reportedly saying they should be cancelled or postponed.

The risks involved in having the games go ahead are clear, with around 15,000 athletes from all over the world likely to take part overall in both the Olympics and Paralympics, plus coaches, officials, broadcasters, judges and other support staff.

An official decision has not been taken yet on whether spectators will be allowed to attend if the games do go ahead, although this seems particularly unlikely.

Has the Olympics ever been cancelled before?

The Olympics has only previously been cancelled on three occasions since it began in 1896, each time due to war.

One of these, the 1916 Summer Olympics, was due to take place in Germany but was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I, and Germany would next host the games in 1936.

Both the 1940 and 1944 games were also cancelled, with Japan originally slated to host both the Winter and Summer games in 1940, but the host nation decided to forfeit this right after war was declared between China and Japan in 1937.

The 1940 games were reorganised, with the Summer games to take place in Finland and the Winter games in Germany. However, when World War II broke out in 1939, the 1940 games were cancelled, as were the 1944 games, due to take place in London, as the war carried on until 1945.