STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Tokyo 2020: 48 hours that rocked the Olympics

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics have officially been postponed to no "later than summer 2021" due to the fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic. The decision affects Japan in more ways than one.

Posted: Mar 25, 2020 8:57 AM
Updated: Mar 26, 2020 5:45 AM


It was on Sunday morning in Geneva, that the proverbial extinguishing of the Olympic flame -- at least for Tokyo 2020 -- effectively began.

At the headquarters of the World Health Organization, the ever-growing numbers of those infected by the coronavirus outbreak caused alarm for International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.

The previous bullishness over staging the Games later this year that had been shown by Bach, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tokyo 2020 organizers showed its first cracks as the number Olympic nations affected by the global pandemic began to soar.

Bach's eyes were drawn to the data from Africa as the continent became the latest to feel the full force of the pandemic.

That Sunday morning, the former German fencer called an emergency meeting of the IOC's executive board for later that day.

The meeting was to be made up of Bach, four vice-presidents and 10 other members, including the former pole vaulter Sergey Bubka and Kirsty Coventry, Africa's most decorated swimmer with seven Olympic medals and now the sports minister in her native South Africa.

READ: When the Olympics are stopped

After being subjected to accusations that it had buried its head in the sand while virtually every other major sporting event was called off, the IOC was now actively discussing postponement.

Bach had already spoken with Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori, a man who had the ear of Abe. All parties made it clear that cancellation was not an option but the dreaded P word -- postponement -- was now very much on the table.

By the end of the executive board meeting, Bach learned 'new alarming information' that the virus had spread to islands in Oceania, with a raft of travel restrictions imposed in many of the Olympic nations.

READ: 'Heartbreaking,' but Covid-19 is 'way bigger' than Olympics postponement

The blows kept coming thick and fast. Bach received a letter from World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, with whom the IOC chief goes back many years.

'I write to you to request that the Games be moved,' said Coe. 'No one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but, as I have said publicly, we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety, and a decision on the Olympic Games must become very obvious very quickly.

'I believe that time has come and we owe it to our athletes to give them respite where we can.'

READ: What happened the last time the Olympics was stopped

Stranded in New Mexico

The domino effect gathered more momentum when Canada became the first nation to officially withdraw its teams from Tokyo 2020, notifying the world of its intention in a statement entitled 'Postpone Today Conquer Tomorrow.'

The next day Australia followed suit saying it had told its athletes to prepare for a 2021 Games, while British athletes training abroad were called home by the UK Foreign Office.

For two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee, it meant an abrupt end to a training camp that had been scheduled to run until the end of April in New Mexico.

For the triathlete and his brother Jonny, twice a medalist at the past two Games behind him, there was no choice but to book a flight home for the following day.

Until that point, they had trained as though the Games were going ahead, the thinking being that a deserted training base might be a safer location.

'That was the best place to train but we were balancing it with the worry that if we stay another week we might not be able to get home for three or even six months,' Alistair Brownlee, the son of doctors working to help combat in the coronavirus outbreak, told CNN.

Earlier that Monday morning in Europe, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had called on G20 leaders to address the global pandemic's acceleration.

It was at this point that the IOC made the first formative steps to postpone the Games, forewarning that such a position would be taken in the call scheduled between Bach and Abe at 11 a.m. Lausanne time on Tuesday.

Before that the US, arguably the world's most powerful Olympic nation, played its hand, saying a postponement was the only option.

Even before the call between Bach and Abe had begun, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that that Japanese prime minster was proposing a postponement of the Games -- unthinkable barely a few weeks ago -- until 2021.

READ: Japan PM and IOC chief agree Games postponement

Political corruption scandal

The IOC is in a sense a private members' club -- albeit one overseeing the world's biggest sporting event -- but postponement wasn't a decision it could afford to take unilaterally.

The IOC was concerned that if it pulled the plug, it would be considered in breach of contract, effectively putting the organization's head on the block in terms of the financial impact, which one of the world's leading sports lawyers John Mehrzad argued could 'run into the billions with TV rights, suppliers rights, economic loss of hotels, the list goes on.'

And what of the Japanese government's obligations? Mehrzad makes the point that the wider ramifications of the postponement are only just beginning to play out.

'It's unfathomable to not think that financial and legal implications are at the forefront for the IOC and Japan in this,' he added. 'This is going to be so messy and difficult, these are crippling figures.'

READ: How one athlete put off children for Tokyo

For Abe, there are also political consequences.

Olympic Games often provide a moment to bring together a nation, but after Tuesday's conversation with Bach, the Japanese prime minister knew postponement had become the only option, however potentially damaging politically, financially and legally.

Alistair Brownlee received the news in New Mexico before he dashed to the airport.

'I was really disappointed but there was relief too,' Brownlee told CNN Sport. 'For me, the shift of a year doesn't make too much difference although logically I'll be a year older so it might be harder.

'But it's hard for the younger athletes building for say eight years to a first Games. If that had happened to me at London 2012 [his first Games and first gold] that would have had a massive effect. With two Olympics, it leaves me in a better place to deal with it.'

For some athletes injured, the announcement proved a blessing, for others preparing for life away from the Games post-2020 it left tougher choices.

'Huge jigsaw puzzle'

Bach and the IOC now face a potential logistical nightmare in rearranging the Games.

'This is like a huge jigsaw puzzle -- every piece has to fit,' said Bach on Tuesday. 'If you take out one piece, the whole puzzle is destroyed. Everything has to come together.

'We have no blueprint but we are confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and have a wonderful Olympic Games.'

When they officially announced the postponement, Bach and Abe said that the 'Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.'

The Olympic flame might continue to burn, but Bach has had a tough job firefighting over the last few days.

Asked on Wednesday whether he personally had any regrets about the handling of the crisis and therefore subsequently considered resigning from his position, Bach said simply: 'No.'

Huntsville
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 51°
Florence
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 54°
Fayetteville
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 48°
Decatur
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 47°
Scottsboro
Few Clouds
48° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 48°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 131405

Reported Deaths: 2292
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19123337
Mobile13122290
Montgomery8688173
Madison763075
Tuscaloosa7323114
Lee575159
Shelby571950
Baldwin508749
Marshall387943
Calhoun337439
Etowah336547
Morgan321426
Houston272722
Elmore255847
DeKalb237119
St. Clair224335
Walker224380
Talladega207726
Limestone200119
Cullman186218
Dallas174926
Franklin174528
Russell17312
Autauga169124
Lauderdale165333
Colbert160926
Escambia156425
Blount156014
Jackson151611
Chilton150227
Dale133343
Covington131127
Coffee12838
Pike11619
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113242
Clarke105517
Marion94828
Butler91138
Barbour8387
Winston71612
Marengo70119
Lowndes64927
Pickens63814
Bibb63610
Randolph62212
Hale61528
Lawrence59220
Bullock59114
Geneva5814
Monroe5768
Cherokee56916
Clay5527
Washington54913
Perry5386
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52411
Crenshaw52331
Macon47820
Henry4754
Fayette4269
Sumter41819
Lamar3532
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3326
Greene30015
Coosa1653
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 184409

Reported Deaths: 2233
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30155447
Davidson26017293
Hamilton914489
Rutherford903187
Knox899872
Williamson508936
Sumner470593
Wilson337343
Putnam307037
Out of TN301324
Montgomery296243
Unassigned28916
Bradley285816
Madison270156
Sevier251813
Blount244023
Maury226023
Washington217933
Robertson217233
Sullivan205431
Hamblen183825
Tipton173917
Trousdale16517
Gibson153819
Hardeman153225
Wayne14805
Bedford130916
Dyer127912
Dickson119913
Cumberland115317
Fayette114318
Anderson113311
Henderson113119
Carter112627
Weakley111819
Loudon11156
Coffee110812
Greene110737
Obion10889
McMinn106824
Jefferson106614
Macon102020
Warren10127
Monroe100116
Lawrence97011
Hardin96714
Lauderdale93615
Haywood92116
Lake9152
Franklin9137
Bledsoe8454
Roane8414
Carroll83217
McNairy81016
Cheatham79010
White7849
Rhea78111
Hawkins77016
Cocke7349
Marshall7175
Overton6805
Smith67810
Johnson6482
Henry6029
Chester5919
Lincoln5791
Giles56817
DeKalb54611
Hickman5385
Crockett51319
Marion5007
Decatur4786
Fentress4363
Claiborne4304
Campbell4193
Polk37811
Grainger3503
Union3371
Benton3329
Jackson3055
Morgan3053
Unicoi2801
Cannon2760
Grundy2495
Humphreys2323
Sequatchie2233
Meigs2213
Clay2105
Scott2002
Houston1860
Lewis1771
Stewart1752
Moore1541
Van Buren1530
Perry1460
Hancock1063
Pickett982

Community Events