The Tokyo Olympics have been official postponed to a date “beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021”
The International Olympic Committee has announced that the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, due to take place this summer, have now been officially postponed until 2021.
It is an announcement that increasingly seemed inevitable following statements from Canada and Australia saying that they would not be sending teams to Tokyo if the Games took place this year.
The problem the Games increasingly faced was that – even if the Coronavirus outbreak had ended by July (an increasingly unlikely event) - many qualification tournaments, including those for rugby sevens, had been postponed by the Coronavirus, with no prospect of new dates being arranged before the Games themselves were due to take place. Athletes who had qualified have been unable to train properly or compete.
The announcements from Canada and Australia finally forced the IOC to make a decision.
For rugby the decision takes the pressure off the need to somehow organise the world repechage event, due to take place in France in only a couple of months’ time. World Rugby now has over a year to play these events.
For many players, however, a year is a long time and could make big difference to whether or not they will be able to play at the Olympics.
Another problem is where this now leave Rugby World Cup 2021, which is due to start in on the 18th September 2021 – a date that may now be only weeks after the Olympic Games.
Depending on who finally qualifies, either for Tokyo or for the World Cup, many teams likely to be will have been hoping to have some of their leading players represent them in both events. Will that still be possible for players to peak at both the Olympics and the World Cup with only perhaps 4-8 weeks between them? It seems unlikely.
Which suggests that the World Cup may take place without a number of big-name players who, given the choice, would understandably prefer to go for Olympic glory.
There is no simple solution as moving the World Cup is no really an option. 2022 is Sevens World Cup year. If there is any wriggle room it will be only a matter of weeks.
When rugby eventually restarts some tough decisions may need to be made about which event players prepare for over the next year – decisions that could accelerate the division of the game between specialist fifteens and sevens players at international level.
England, with probably the world’s largest player pool, have moved that way in recent years, but even they have found it tough. For other nations with fewer players to pick from the way ahead is not going to be easy.