IOC President: Tokyo Games would be canceled if not held in 2021

TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 14: A giant Olympic Rings are seen amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 14, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

The Tokyo Olympics will not be rescheduled a second time. 

The head of the International Olympic Committee told BBC Sport on Thursday that he accepts that the Summer Games must be canceled if they cannot be held in 2021. Thomas Bach said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it clear that next summer is “the last option.” 

“Quite frankly I have some understanding of this,” Bach told BBC Sport. “You cannot forever employ 3,000 to 5,000 people in an organizing committee. You cannot every year change an entire sport’s schedule worldwide. You cannot have the athletes being in uncertainty.”

The IOC in March announced the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from July 2020 until July 2021 as a result of the global Coronavirus pandemic. Since that announcement, the IOC and Tokyo organizing committee have expressed hope that the Summer Games could take on additional meaning as a celebration of the world coming together to overcome COVID-19. 

Infectious disease experts interviewed by Yahoo Sports in March were split on whether the virus could be contained in time for the Olympics to be held next summer. 

“My guess is we will be in a much better place by Summer 2021, and well on the way to vaccination,” said Rebecca Katz, a public health expert at Georgetown University.

Ali Khan, an epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska, was less confident that a vaccine would be ready by July 2021 and cautioned that Summer 2022 would be a far more realistic timetable. 

“All they need is one person among all these athletes to be sick and the cycle starts all over again,” Khan said.

In his interview with BBC Sport on Thursday, Bach said that for now “there is a clear commitment to having the Games in July of next year.” He acknowledged the IOC is preparing for “different scenarios,” including the possibility of quarantining the athletes in the Olympic village.  

Japanese officials have previously suggested it could be difficult to stage the Olympics if the country has not contained the virus and if a vaccine is not yet available. Asked Thursday if he agreed, Bach sidestepped the question and said the IOC will rely on the advice of the World Health Organization.