IOC president Thomas Bach says all options are on the table for rescheduled Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games will now be held in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic — but when in 2021, exactly, remains a key question.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said on a conference call Wednesday morning that the timing of the event will not be restricted to the summer months. But he offered no set dates for when the postponed Games could take place, nor a timeline for when a decision on the new dates could be reached.

"All of the options are on the table, before or including the summer (of) 2021," Bach said.

Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, has said "the general target (for the Games) is summer of next year." But Bach's comments indicate that the event could also be staged in the spring, when Japan's famous cherry blossoms would be in full bloom.

Whether the world will be ready in 2021, whenever the Games are scheduled then, remains to be seen. Public health experts have said the trajectory of the spread of the virus is unknown, and Olympic organizers might face the same type of decisions next year.

When asked about the possibility of a second postponement or cancellation, should the coronavirus pandemic stretch into 2021, Bach spoke only of athlete safety.

"We have established this principle, which we have always been following and which we will be following also in future: That we want and we will organize a Games only in a safe environment for all the participants," he said.

The IOC and local organizing committee find themselves in the unprecedented situation of rescheduling the world’s biggest sporting event amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted citizens of more than 160 countries on six continents. Bach likened the challenge to putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle, in which "every piece has to fit."

Until recently, the IOC’s official position had been that the Games would go on as planned, beginning July 24. Bach said Wednesday that the accelerating spread of the virus — primarily in Africa — caused the IOC to shift its thinking.

Publicly, the IOC went from opening the door to postponement over the weekend to announcing an agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday to do so.

"It became more and more a question of whether the world could travel to Japan and whether Japan could afford, in the spirit of containing the virus, to really invite the world," Bach said.

"Our doubts were growing that the world would be ready for these Olympic Games."

Bach noted that the IOC has the unilateral right to cancel the Olympics, which he said was discussed. In order to postpone, however, the organization needed buy-in from Japan — and Abe in particular.

The decision to shift the Games to 2021 carries significant political ramifications for the Japanese prime minister, who has viewed the event as one of the pivotal moments of his tenure. It also carries a hefty financial cost, much of which will be shouldered by Japanese taxpayers. 

A national government audit pegged the cost of hosting the Tokyo Olympics at around $28 billion, well beyond the proposed budget. Local organizers have estimated there will be about $2.7 billion in additional costs associated with postponing the Games until next year, according to Japanese newspaper Nikkei.

"For a postponement, we needed the full commitment of our Japanese partners," Bach said.

Bach said the IOC and Japanese organizers hope to decide on a new timeframe for the Games "as soon as possible," and have created a task force to sift through the complex legal, financial and logistical details. He said the task force has a "very good name, with a good spirit," a title befitting the group's perspective as it moves ahead.

"The task force calls itself 'Here We Go,'" Bach said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow Rachel Axon on Twitter @RachelAxon. Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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