Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach have agreed to a one-year postponement of this year's Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo following a conference call today.
In a statement, the IOC said Abe and Bach concluded that the Games must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021 to "safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community".
This was based on information provided by the World Health Organization, whose director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said yesterday that the COVID-19 pandemic is "accelerating".
There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.
"The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present," the statement reads.
"Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan.
"It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020."
Abe and Bach were joined on the conference call by Tokyo 2020 President Yoshirō Mori, Japan's Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, IOC Coordination Commission chair John Coates, IOC director general Christophe De Kepper and the IOC Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi.
"President Bach and Prime Minister Abe expressed their shared concern about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and what it is doing to people’s lives and the significant impact it is having on global athletes’ preparations for the Games," the IOC statement adds.
"In a very friendly and constructive meeting, the two leaders praised the work of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and noted the great progress being made in Japan to fight against COVID-19."
It marks the first time ever that the quadrennial sporting event has been postponed.
Before the conference, Hashimoto called for the IOC to put athletes first.
"It's our hope that the IOC will listen thoroughly to the voices of athletes and take them into consideration in deciding when is the best time (to hold the Games)," she said, as reported by Kyodo News.
Today's news follows yesterday's claim by former IOC vice-president Richard Pound that Tokyo 2020 will be delayed, most likely until next year.
On Sunday (March 22), the IOC announced it would make a final decision on Tokyo 2020 in four weeks' time, but they have been under pressure to make a quicker decision.
The four-week window was expected to allow the IOC and Tokyo 2020 the chance to study different options regarding a postponement of the Games.
The IOC said the scenarios will involve either modifying existing operational plans, which would allow the go ahead on July 24, or changing the start date of the Games.
The time-frame provided by the IOC followed mounting pressure from athletes and National Olympic Committees over the fate of the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the escalation of the crisis, both Canada and Australia withdrew their athletes from Tokyo 2020 if it were to take place as originally scheduled from July 24 to August 9.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee said they had made the "difficult decision" not to travel to Japan in 2020, while the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) also told their athletes to prepare for a Games in 2021 as a team for this year "could not be assembled".
Coates, another former IOC vice-president and viewed as a key ally of Bach, is the AOC President.
The American, Swiss and Brazilian Olympic Committees are among others to call on the IOC to postpone Tokyo 2020.
The IOC has also come under pressure from International Federations, with World Athletics the most high-profile.
In a letter to Bach, seen by insidethegames, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said Tokyo 2020 taking place as originally planned in July and August was "neither feasible nor desirable" amid growing international concern over the pandemic.