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Officials postpone the 2020 Olympics amid coronavirus pandemic

Pedestrians pose with an installation of the Olympic rings in Tokyo on March 24, 2020.

Kazuhurio Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the biggest sporting event in the world.

The International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, officials announced Tuesday. The event was scheduled to start July 24 in Tokyo. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday he and the head of the International Olympic Committee agreed to delay the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo for about a year. The games will take place “no later than summer 2021,” according to a statement from the IOC.

Abe was speaking to reporters after a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach on postponing the Games amid growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Tokyo had completed preparations when the virus started spreading across the world. Despite insisting for months the Olympics would go ahead as planned, Abe this week said a delay may be unavoidable if the events could not be held in a complete form.

The agreement comes after rising calls around the world to cancel or postpone the games. The Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee withdrew the from the 2020 Summer Games over the weekend. Canadian officials also requested the IOC postpone the Olymptics until next year, they said in a statement.

“If the IOC’s decision means it becomes impossible to hold [the Olympics] in a ‘complete form,’ as I have previously said, then a decision may have to be made to postpone them,” Abe told Parliament on Monday, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

His comments were in response to Sunday’s statement from the IOC executive board that said canceling the event “would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda.”

Tokyo last hosted the Olympics in 1964. The 1940 Summer Games, originally to be held in the capital of Japan, were canceled because of World War II.

The Bank of Japan estimated 33 million visitors were set to visit Tokyo in 2020 and “aggregate construction investment associated with the Olympic Games will amount to a total of 10 trillion yen.” (Or about $92 billion.)

Former BOJ board member Sayuri Shirai told CNBC a cancellation of the games would hurt businesses in Japan, calling the issue “serious.” She added the government “doesn’t want to talk about” the economic hit Japan would suffer if the games are cancelled.

The postponement of the Olympics follows a slew of season suspensions for professional sports around the world due to the coronavirus. The NBA, NHL, MLB have all delayed or suspended games. The NFL canceled the in-person event for the 2020 draft, which was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas on April 23. The NFL has not made a decision on whether or not to delay or suspend its next season, which starts in September.

–Reuters contributed to this report.

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