TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach agreed Tuesday to postpone this summer's Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese leader said.
After speaking with Bach on the phone, Abe told reporters that they will aim to hold the Olympics and Paralympics next year. It is the first time ever that the quadrennial sporting event has been postponed.
The unprecedented delay will be a major blow to host Japan and is certain to have a cascade of economic, political and social ramifications. It will also pose considerable logistical challenges to Olympic organizers.
The phone talks came amid mounting pressure from athletes and sports organizations to reschedule the Olympics due to the rapid spread of the virus, and just a day after Abe told parliament that the Summer Games cannot be held under the current circumstances, suggesting for the first time that they may have to be postponed.
Athletes have been struggling to train as gyms and other sports facilities have been closed since the virus that broke out in China late last year spread to all of the world's seven continents except Antarctica.
More than 380,000 people have been infected and over 16,000 who contracted the pneumonia-causing COVID-19 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
As the World Health Organization has warned that "the pandemic is accelerating," scores of Olympic qualifiers and major sports tournaments have been canceled, while countless travel restrictions have been imposed across the globe.
The IOC has said so far only 57 percent of athletes have been qualified for the forthcoming games, although the Olympic flame was lit on March 12 in Greece as planned and it arrived in Japan on Friday.
"If it is difficult to hold the games in a complete way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to (the health of the) athletes," Abe said Monday.
Hosting a "complete" games mean there will be spectators as usual and no downsizing involved, according to the prime minister.
The IOC said Sunday it would study alternative plans for the Olympics, initially due to begin July 24, and make an assessment within the next four weeks.
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Japan's Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto joined the teleconference.
Before the conference, Hashimoto called for the IOC to put athletes first.
"It's our hope that the IOC will listen thoroughly to the voices of athletes and take them into consideration in deciding when is the best time (to hold the games)," Hashimoto said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees have said they will not send teams to the Tokyo Games if they go ahead this summer as scheduled.
Abe spoke by telephone on Tuesday morning with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and said the IOC's decision to consider various options is in line with Tokyo's stance that the games should be held in their complete form, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Trudeau told Abe that holding the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo will demonstrate that the world has overcome the new virus and Canadian athletes are looking forward to participating, the ministry said.
The following is a chronology of major events related to the Tokyo Olympics and coronavirus outbreak.
- Sept. 7, 2013 -- Tokyo wins bid to host 2020 Summer Olympics.
- Jan. 24, 2014 -- Tokyo Olympic organizing committee established.
- June 9, 2017 -- International Olympic Committee approves official Olympic program featuring 339 events across 33 sports.
- May 9, 2019 -- First Olympic ticket lottery starts in Japan.
- Oct. 16 -- IOC announces plan to relocate marathon and race walking events to Sapporo due to heat concerns.
- Jan. 30, 2020 -- World Health Organization declares coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
- Feb. 4 -- Tokyo Olympic organizing committee sets up task force to deal with coronavirus outbreak.
- Feb. 27 -- IOC President Thomas Bach says IOC "fully committed" to holding Olympics on schedule.
- March 11 -- WHO calls coronavirus outbreak a "pandemic."
- March 12 -- Olympic flame lighting ceremony held at a site of ancient Olympia in Greece without spectators. U.S. President Donald Trump suggests postponing Tokyo Olympics for one year.
- March 13 -- Greek leg of Olympic torch relay canceled over fear of spreading virus.
- March 22 -- IOC says it will consider alternative scenarios for Olympics, including postponement.
- March 24 -- Bach, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agree to postpone Tokyo Olympics by one year.