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A guard stands in front of apartment buildings at the athletes' village for the Tokyo Olympics on Monday. Photo: AP/Jae C Hong
2020 tokyo olympics

Postponing the Olympics: Here are some of the challenges

By Richard Carter

The Tokyo Olympics appears to be creeping toward a postponement, an unprecedented and costly exercise that involves ripping up years of planning.

As International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told Germany's SWR: "Postponing the Olympic Games is not like moving a football game to next Saturday."

Here are just some of the challenges:

Competition scheduling

As specialist website Inside the Games put it, the Olympics "gravitate around... a four-year cycle. If you wake up and the sun is in a completely different place, there are going to be consequences".

Much depends on the length of any postponement but shoehorning an Olympics into what is already a packed sporting calendar in 2021, for example, will be a logistical nightmare for both athletes, administrators and broadcasters.

One potential clash is the World Athletics Championships, currently scheduled for August 2021 in the United States -- a lucrative pay-day for athletes and TV networks.

Swimming is also scheduled to hold its World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan from July 16 to Aug 1, 2021.

Adding to the crowded schedule is football's European Championships, already postponed from 2020 to 2021.

Olympic legend Carl Lewis has put the case for holding the Summer Games in 2022 alongside that year's Winter Games in Beijing, creating a "celebratory Olympic year".


There are 43 Olympic sites -- some temporary, some purpose-built, others repurposed for the Tokyo 2020 Games -- and all of them present difficulties in the event of a postponement.

The IOC highlighted this as one of the main concerns, warning: "A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore."

For example, one of the main selling points of the brand new 68,000-seater Olympic Stadium was that it would hold "cultural and sporting events" after the Games were over. Any such event would now need to be moved if it clashes with a rescheduled Games.

And it's not just sporting venues. Organizers have block-booked the enormous Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center to host the thousands of international journalists covering the Games.

This is one of Asia's premier venues for hosting large-scale conferences, and is booked many months in advance. Finding a suitable slot or persuading others to move could also be a challenge.

Athletes' village

A major question mark hangs over the athletes' village, which occupies some prime real estate overlooking Tokyo Bay with a view of the city skyline and its famous Rainbow Bridge.

It will have 21 towers of between 14 and 18 floors with a total capacity of 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 for the Paralympics.

The plan was to renovate and convert the village into thousands of luxury condos, which are being sold off or put up for rent.

According to the website of the Harumi Flag developers, some 4,145 units were to be put up for sale. Viewings and sales of a first batch of 940 apartments began in summer 2019 and the vast majority have already been snapped up, according to Japanese media.

Postponement would mean delaying the renovation process and huge uncertainty for those who have already signed contracts -- including whether force majeure clauses would be triggered.


Among the "many, many" challenges the IOC mentioned, it highlighted that "the situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle".

In fact, one of the concerns before the coronavirus hit was a possible dearth of hotel rooms. One idea was to park a cruise ship offshore for emergency accommodation -- now surely a non-starter given the experience with cruise ships and the virus.

Hotel rooms have been block-booked in advance for many months. Many have paid a large deposit in advance and could face losing this, in addition to having to rebook quickly for a postponed date.

The hotel industry would also face huge uncertainty if the Games are delayed, adding to the headache already posed by a catastrophic drop in tourism.

Any silver linings?

A postponement by a few months to later in 2020 might solve what had previously been the biggest concern over the Tokyo Olympics: the sweltering heat of the Japanese summer.

It could even be conceivable to move the marathon back to Tokyo after it was shifted to the northern city of Sapporo amid fears over athletes' safety in the summer heat and humidity of the Japanese capital.

However, going ahead in the autumn would also put the Olympics in prime typhoon season -- as the Rugby World Cup found out to its cost last year.

A delay could also give sporting federations more time to prepare qualifying events, addressing one of the main concerns voiced by athletes.

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The IOC highlighted this as one of the main concerns, warning: "A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore."

I think that it may be easily solved by dropping "one host city" rule to seek sites across Japan, outside Tokyo. In fact, the marathon venue moved to Sapporo, Hokkaido due to a rising concern of deadly high temperature. The opening and closing ceremonies are to stay in Tokyo. Big gatherings (vulnerable to the virus or natural disasters) can be avoided or largely mitigated.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The Olympics?

It’s an overhyped, excessively promoted by major conglomerates seeking to make money off of products made in 3rd world countries or mass produced junk food event which has lost touch with reality...

11 ( +14 / -3 )

Just postpone it for 4 years - simples :)

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

It will have 21 towers of between 14 and 18 floors with a total capacity of 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 for the Paralympics.

Just a many are sold, how many are “gifted”? Nice view.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The fork has already been stuck in but some people refuse to believe it's done.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Oh God ! What crazy world we are living in.

Too muchness. When life gets to feeling like its all too much.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

First, get Japan locked down. You need to be working out logistics such as implementing emergency stimulus packages and other measures so society is able to still function.

The above is reading like a lot like OLs and bureaucrats have been commuting in and holding pointless meetings to work out all the permutations and possible outcomes, but we don't even know how this is going to pan out yet.

Instead, do the same regarding coming up with strategies and measures regarding a lockdown of the country, and then we can talk.

At this stage I think it is showing complete arrogance and incompetence in even thinking about the outcome of the postponement of the Olympics.


2 ( +2 / -0 )

Are they going to give out patches to replace the 2020? Or do everyone needs to repurchase new Olympics T-shirts and memorabilia?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japanese government even said "glad they are postponing and not cancelling".... they have already figured it out and will tell everyone Friday (the best day to release bad news).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The postponement is likely to be for a year, not a few months. They cannot hold the games in winter. There is no silver lining.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Will people STOP calling for a lockdown, it is in the postwar constitution impossible.

The government can ask companies to close ask people to stay home and cancel events but not enforce it.

And why you would hope to be locked in your home is beyond me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To Cancel or Postpone?

As a pragmatist the lest painful option overall is to Cancel.

An option is for the next hosting country is to utilize Japans wonderful facilities.

Sharing the costs would be a benefit to both countries.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

would've thought postponing by a year would be an excellent opportunity for Japan to prop up its economy after the world has been ravaged by covid.

but there are broadcasting contracts and other scheduled events already in place that are also posing a problem....

3 ( +3 / -0 )

shoehorning an Olympics into what is already a packed sporting calendar in 2021

That by itself is an indicator that the Olympics is not needed at all after all. Why hold the Olympics on top of so many other sport events?

And by the way, all the above headache could have been long resolved decades ago if the IOC wouldn't so stubbornly insist on sticking to this idea of a traveling circus around the world. There could be one host city in the world and be done with it. If sports is of the utmost importance for the IOC then that shouldn't be a problem.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Get over it...! GOJ has been constructing all sorts of complex, facilities, living quarters and they still remain without occupants.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@tokyo-star agree.

but one year will still be Tokyo summer 35-45 degrees.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just call it off, the construction companies have made their money. Does anyone really care about olympic sports? 50km walk? Small bore pistol shooting? Dressage? No, I didn’t think so.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

If they postpone it, will the underage athletes get a chance to compete if they will be of age at the time?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Postphone is a must. Worst senario, imagine ahtheletes down with Corona virus and no enough doctors to take care of them. All the talk abt corona virus and 13 trillion budject ???. Yet not caring abt bad cases that might happen if the pandemic becomes a transdemic ???. It is not like , this event will not happen but just one to two years delay ???. This stop actions will save many lives.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Mr. Kipling

Actually, I rather like the dressage and the horse jumping. The rest though? I couldn't be interested less.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

but one year will still be Tokyo summer 35-45 degrees.

postpone it to around hanami season/golden week 2021 and it would be a huge much-needed boost to the economy, and can still avoid the awful tokyo summer heat.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


And why you would hope to be locked in your home is beyond me.

Fortunately, it's not beyond the countless medical experts knowledgeable in infectious disease prevention, and those smart enough follow their advice.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a marginally interesting alternative, would postponing the Olympics to spring 2021 – that is, hold them in April or May next year rather than mid-summer – be a possibility?

There are two definite advantages of postponing to spring 2021 rather than to the next summer. The first is that the weather in Tōkyō is much better in the spring than in summer and has no risk of typhoons, and the second is that some potential conflicts with world championships in Olympic sports like athletics and swimming would be avoided or reduced. A postponement shorter by three months would also potentially mean marginally fewer logistical problems.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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