Olympic Games Postponed for the First Time in History


The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has been announced today. This had long been expected because of the global crisis caused by the Covid 19 or Coronavirus outbreak.  It is the first time in history that the games have been postponed, although they have been cancelled three times in the twentieth century.

The Olympic Games were formally postponed after a discussion between the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee. They both agreed that cancelling the games was unacceptable and believed that postponement was best.  Holding the competitions in empty stadiums was also rejected. The Guardian quotes Abe as stating that he and Mr Bach ‘agreed that a postponement would be the best way to ensure that the athletes are in peak condition when they compete and to guarantee the safety of the spectators’.

Global agreement

The announcement has been welcomed by many, as a sensible decision given the current crisis. If the games were held in Tokyo, they could pose a public health risk. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that ‘I know this is heart breaking for so many people; athletes, coaches, staff and fans, but this was absolutely the right call’ reports The Guardian .

This decision was inevitable because of fears over the coronavirus pandemic. Many nations had already decided to pull out of the Summer Games, including Australia and Canada. A video conference held between members of the G-7 and it had been informally agreed to postpone the games. The news of the postponement will cause a great deal of disappointment in Japan, which has invested billions of dollars, in the games. Only in recent days, large numbers of people welcomed the arrival of the Olympic flame in the country.

There is no news when the Summer Games will be held. Veteran International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, a Canadian, predicted the postponement in recent days. In an interview, before today’s announcement, he told USA Today , that ‘the games will likely be moved to 2021, with the details to be worked out in the next four weeks’.

Ancient Olympia, Greece. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Ancient Olympia, Greece. (  CC BY-SA 2.0  )

Sacred Truce

The Ancient Olympic Games began in the 8 th century BC and continued until the 339 AD when they were prohibited by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I . The games were held in Olympia, in Greece and were not only a celebration of sport but also important religious and cultural festivals. They were held every four years and they were accompanied by a Sacred Truce, which sought to reduce conflict among the warring Greeks. The ancient Olympic Games were never cancelled or postponed and held even ‘during the Persian and the Peloponnesian wars’ according to the Ancient Olympics website. 

On occasion, the Sacred Truce was broken by warring armies, but still, the games went ahead. This was because of the religious importance of the festival. The Olympic Games were a religious festival to honor the King of the Gods, Zeus. Failure to hold the games would have brought the wrath of Zeus down on the Greeks. This explains why the competition was never cancelled or even postponed, in the Classical era.

Ruins of the Temple of Hera at Olympia. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Ruins of the Temple of Hera at Olympia. (  CC BY-SA 3.0  )

World Wars and the Olympics

The modern Olympic Games were revived in 1896 and it has been cancelled three times, all during World Wars. It was cancelled in 1916, because of WWI. According to History Extra ,  ‘the organizers of the 1916 games in Berlin eventually had to accept that the war would not be over by Christmas before cancelling’.

 The Olympics were then held every year until the outbreak of the Second World War. They were cancelled in 1940 and 1944. However, according to History Extra , ‘1944 did witness an Olympics of sorts’. A group of Polish prisoners of war persuaded their German captors to allow them to hold a token Olympic Games. This involved races, football and volleyball, but not ‘fencing, javelin, and pole vault for obvious reasons’ states History Extra .

Olympic Games 2021?

The Cold War disrupted the Olympics. The Americans and their allies boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980, while the Soviet Union and its satellites, refused to participate in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The Seoul Olympics in 1988 was boycotted by North Korea and a number of other communist nations.

The news of the postponement is historic as it is the first time that the Ancient and Modern games have been deferred because of an outbreak of disease or a pandemic. The Guardian reports that his government would hold the Games “in their complete form” – with the full quota of athletes and spectators – as a symbol of the world’s triumph over coronavirus’’.  These Games will be probably very special as a result.

Top image: The Olympic Games Tokyo 202has been postponed.  Source: kovop58Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan



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