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VIRUS OUTBREAK

IOC, Japan agree to push back Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021

Postponement, a first in event's 124-year history, is expected to deal a further blow to Japan's economy

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the Games were delayed to ensure that it would be a safe and secure event for athletes and spectators.

Tokyo

JAPAN and the Olympics movement decided on Tuesday to delay this year's Tokyo Games into 2021 as the coronavirus crisis obliterated the world's last major imminent sporting event.

It was the first time in the Olympics' 124-year history that they had been postponed, though they were cancelled outright several times during World War I and II.

After a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the July 24-Aug 9 event would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest.

"We asked President Bach to consider postponement of about one year to make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition, and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators," Mr Abe said.

"President Bach said he is in agreement 100 per cent."

There was no immediate word from the IOC, though its executives were due to meet later on Tuesday.

Athletes were sad but relieved after weeks of worrying and struggling to train as the world headed into virtual lockdown from the disease that has claimed more than 16,500 lives.

The historic decision to postpone the games is likely to pile on the pain for Japan's economy, already expected to be roiled by the global virus outbreak, economists say.

Analysts at research firm Fitch said pushing back the games could worsen the situation significantly, and could impact GDP between 0.5 and 0.8 percentage point.

A postponement "would badly affect Japanese consumer confidence", said Takashi Miwa, an economist at Nomura.

The delay could drag down tourism as well as general consumption in the country, already under pressure after a controversial sales tax hike last year.

It is also unclear what effect it might have on the 240 billion yen (S$3.12 billion) in spending from foreign spectators who were expected to attend the Games.

At the end of 2019, organisers estimated the total cost of the Games at around 1.35 trillion yen.

Japanese businesses have also poured money into the event in sponsorships, paying out a record 348 billion yen. And that figure doesn't include the partnerships signed between major companies and the International Olympic Committee for rights to sponsor several Games.

Among those are giants including Japan's Toyota, Bridgestone and Panasonic.

Asked about how much delaying the games will cost Japan, Toshiro Muto, CEO of Tokyo 2020, said: "The basic policy of postponement was decided today.

"How exactly are we going to achieve the postponement? That will be discussed among the IOC, us and Tokyo. I am sure it will be very difficult." REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP