While the coronavirus pandemic brought the international sporting landscape to a standstill in recent weeks, the International Olympic Committee was almost stubbornly insistent on going through with the biggest event of all, the 32nd Summer Olympic Games, originally scheduled to be held in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9. That is until Tuesday, when the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee announced in a joint statement that "the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021.”
When Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, had floated the idea of cancelling the games in an interview with the Associated Press last month, sports fans around the world were put on red alert. Back then, Pound stressed that “all indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual,” while also reassuring athletes that the IOC would not send them into a pandemic situation. Interestingly, Pound didn’t think that the eventual outcome, a postponement of the games, would be likely: “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”
Four weeks have gone by since said interview was published and even before Tuesday’s official announcement, it had become increasingly clear that the Tokyo games couldn’t go ahead as planned. With respect to the postponement, the IOC hopes that “the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.”
As the following chart shows, the Summer Olympics have only been cancelled three times in the modern era dating back to 1896. The 1916 games in Berlin fell victim to World War I and the 1940 and 1944 games, scheduled to be held in Helsinki and London, respectively, were cancelled due to World War II. Interestingly, the 2016 Rio games were also clouded by a health crisis, as many athletes refused to participate due to the ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus.