Pandemic puts Olympics on hold

Game off: The flag’s five rings represent the five continents, currently united in suffering. © Getty

Organisers have postponed the Olympic Games due to the threat of the coronavirus. Now, they face the enormous challenge of rescheduling one of the largest sporting events in the world.

What’s happening

Since their creation in 1896, the modern Olympic Games have only been cancelled three times because of world conflict. Now, for the first time, a disease has affected the competition. Last week, officials announced that Tokyo 2020 would be postponed by a year because of the spread of Covid-19.

Find out more

Sebastian Coe said it was “the right decision”, but it cannot have been an easy one. While athletes worried that they wouldn’t be able to qualify, organisers of the games hoped that the threat of the virus could be contained so they wouldn’t have to postpone the event.

2021 was already set to be a busy sporting year, with important athletics and swimming events in the calendar. Now, with disruption due to the coronavirus pushing more events back, re-organising the Olympics is becoming a logistical nightmare.

Organisers of the World Athletic Championships have already agreed to move their 2021 event to make way for the larger competition, but other sports might not be so obliging.

Are the Olympics the most important sporting event in the world?

Some say…

Not really. The Olympics may be an important athletics event, but different competitions are more relevant for other sports. Moving the Olympics means athletes have to make difficult decisions, like women’s rugby players who were due to have their World Cup in 2021. Other events shouldn’t be forced to move just because the Olympics is larger.

Others think…

Definitely. More than any other competition, the Olympics is about coming together. It draws athletes and spectators from over 200 countries – and even some who have no country – making it the most inclusive sporting event in the world. Athletes see it as a career highlight to take part, and the competition promotes sport to millions of viewers.

You Decide

  1. Does sport bring people together or divide them?


  1. The Olympic flag was designed to represent unity between nations. With this in mind, design a new flag that celebrates this philosophy.

Some People Say...

“Sport is a universal language, building more bridges between people than anything else I can think of.”

Sebastian Coe

What do you think?

Word Watch

World conflict
The Olympics was first cancelled in 1916 after the outbreak of World War One. Then, in 1940 and 1944, World War Two disrupted the competition once again.
Sebastian Coe
A British politician, former track and field athlete, and president of World Athletics. Sebastian Coe won four Olympic medals, including the 1500 metres gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984.
Athletes wishing to take part in the Olympic Games are required to take part in qualifying events. These were due to finish by June, but many athletes were unable to get to them due to travel restrictions.
Involving organisation and planning.
Willing to do a service, or kindness; helpful.
Some who have no country
In 2016, the IOC created a new team for a group of people with no nation: the Refugee Olympic Team. The athletes on this team had been displaced from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Walking into the Olympic Stadium, they were led in by the Olympic flag, to the music of the Olympic anthem.


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