(CN) – The International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Summer Olympics, set to be held in Tokyo in July, until 2021 as Covid-19 infections continued to rise globally Tuesday.
“We wish that the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said this morning in a conference call.
The World Health Organization has recorded 375,000 cases of the respiratory disease worldwide since it was first discovered in Wuhan, China, this past December. To date, 14,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus.
“This summer was supposed to be a culmination of your hard work and life’s dream, but taking a step back from competition to care for our communities and each other is the right thing to do,” Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a letter to Team USA regarding the decision.
“Your moment will wait until we can gather again safely,” Hirshland added. “I wish I had answers to every question out there, but the reality is this decision is unprecedented, and therefore, presents an entirely new process.”
The Olympics were canceled during World War I and World War II, but this is the first time the games have been delayed in the face of a pandemic.
The International Olympic Committee hopes to reschedule the competition before the end of summer 2021. Until then, the Olympic flame will remain in Japan, as a symbol of hope praised by organizers around the world.
“Sport has a unique power to inspire and bring people together and we are certain that the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games can be that beacon of hope for the whole world to focus on to show what the human spirit can achieve,” Mike Sharrock, CEO of the British Paralympic Association, said in a statement.
The news of the delay was met with relief, understanding and optimism from many corresponding Olympic committees around the world.
“Now is the time for the Olympic sports movement around the world to show unity and solidarity and to work as one team in preparing for a brighter future,” Husain Al-Musallam, director general of the Olympic Council of Asia, said in a statement.
“At this time, we would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the Organizing Committee of Tokyo 2020 for all the work, planning and preparation they have put in over a number of years — only for this completely unforeseen pandemic to intervene and change the course of Olympic history,” Al-Musallam added.
During the last summer games held in Brazil in 2016, athletes from 206 national Olympic committees competed in 28 sports.