The Japanese professional baseball and soccer seasons will be further delayed as the country grapples with the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Japanese professional baseball had aimed to open its season on April 24 after previously pushing it back from March 20.
After a meeting Friday of a joint coronavirus task force established by the NPB and soccer's J-League, Japanese baseball commissioner Atsushi Saito said there was no option but to postpone opening day again.
"Unfortunately things are getting worse now," Saito said. "We'll have a meeting with all 12 teams, but it appears like we'll have to be prepared for an extension (to our postponement)."
After briefly starting in February, the J-League's first and second divisions suspended play later in the month.
J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai said it would be difficult to go ahead with the planned re-start of the first division on May 9.
"I think it's unrealistic to say that we can hold the games as scheduled," Murai said.
A number of NPB and J-League players have been infected with the new virus.
On Tuesday, Japan and Vissel Kobe defender Gotoku Sakai became the first player from the J-League to test positive for COVID-19. That followed last week's announcement that three players from the Hanshin Tigers, of Japan's professional baseball league, had also tested positive.
The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Tokyo confirmed 97 more cases on Thursday, the largest single-day number of infections yet in the capital. Japan has recorded more than 2,600 cases of COVID-19 and 63 deaths from the disease.
The countdown clocks have been reset and are ticking again for the Tokyo Olympics.
The model outside Tokyo Station, and others across the Japanese capital, were switched on almost immediately after organizers announced the new dates — July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.
The clocks read 479 days to go. That seems a long way away, but also small and insignificant compared with the worldwide fallout from the coronavirus.
Then again, it's not much time to reassemble the first Olympics to be postponed since the modern games began 124 years ago; not for 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes, and not for sponsors, broadcasters, the fans that have already bought tickets and Japanese organizers and taxpayers who have spent billions and will have to come up with billions more to pay for the setback.
"I believe that these Olympics are going to have great historical significance," Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee, said after confirming the new dates.
Mori, an 82-year-old former Japanese prime minister, also recalled there's no guarantee that the coronavirus pandemic will be under control a year from now. That includes the new dates for the Paralympics now set for Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
"This is a prayer that we have and I do believe that someone is going to listen to our prayers," Mori said.
After cursory talk about an Olympics in the spring, the new summer dates overlap perfectly with the same time slot that was picked for 2020. Organizers are hoping to overlay the old plans with new plans, keeping venues in place, securing thousands of rooms in the Athletes Village, deploying the same volunteers, and letting people who bought tickets keep them.
The summer date also avoids conflicts with the crowded North American and European sports schedules. But summer in Tokyo also means grappling with intense heat and humidity, the major worry for games organizers before the pandemic.
"Obviously in the summer there might be typhoons and the heat problems," Mori said. "However, this situation is the same. We always had those problems so we will be prepared for those issues."
Though the international sports federations went along with the new dates, some of them, like the International Triathlon Union, preferred the cooler spring during Japan's cherry blossom season. But that was overridden by the easiest route to lining up venues.
"We are having discussions with all the venues at the moment," said Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee. "At this point we don't have a final decision. However, some problems have already become apparent."
Muto said organizers haven't yet heard from any venues saying the rescheduled Olympic events can't be staged there next year.
"There are a lot of venues that can't make a decision yet. So we have to negotiate with them," he said. "If we have to make a change to the venues, then we might have to change the competition schedule as well.
"I personally don't think there are going to be many major changes to the (competition) schedule," he added. "But our discussions haven't gone that far yet."
David Wallechinsky, the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the Olympics in 2021 — they will still be officially called the 2020 Olympics — could become a symbol for a world pulling together after the pandemic.
"I see this postponement as more of an opportunity for the Olympic Movement, rather than a setback," he said in an email to The Associated Press.
He said an outright cancellation, rather than postponement, probably was not feasible.
"From a financial point of view, cancellation was not a viable option," he said. "The repercussions would have been complex and widespread."
The Olympic flame, which arrived from Greece on March 12, will stay temporarily in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima. The Olympics were supposed to focus on that area's struggles from the earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in 2011. But the flame's symbolism next year is likely to shift to recovery from the pandemic.
Mori and Muto have both acknowledged rejiggering the Olympics will incur "massive costs." Estimates range between an added $2 billion-$6 billion. And Japanese taxpayers will pick up most of the bills, as they have for most of the preparations so far.
Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.
"There will be costs and we will need to consider them one by one," Muto said. "I think that will be the tougher process."
Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are already twice that much. When it won the bid in 2013, Tokyo said the Olympics could cost $7.3 billion.
All of the spending is public money except for $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget. About $3.3 billion in that budget has been raised from local sponsorship deals driven by Dentsu Inc., Japan's giant advertising and public relations company.
That sponsorship amount is almost three times more than any previous Olympics.
"The current sponsor contracts will expire this year," Muto said. "And since the games will be extended until next year, we would like to ask them for extensions. I'm not hearing they have any specific objections to this. And whether we would like to ask them for more contributions — nothing has been decided."
The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion to the Tokyo Olympics, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC's contribution goes into the operating budget.
The IOC had income in the latest four-year Olympic cycle of $5.7 billion, and 73% was from selling broadcast rights with 18% from long-term sponsor revenue. American broadcaster NBC makes up half of the IOC's broadcast revenue and pays more than $1 billion for the rights to each Olympics.
The IOC also has almost $2 billion in reserve funds and insurance to cover emergency situations.
"NBC, in particular, has a lot to say," Wallechinsky said. "That's why the games are scheduled for the summer, which is not ideal for athletes competing in outdoors sports. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics took place in October, when the weather was more favorable."
The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were canceled because of Japan's war with China. The Olympics in 1916 and 1944 were also canceled because of wars. And these Olympics have had a bumpy time, which included the resignation last year of the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee amid a bribery scanda l.
"Even the 1940 Tokyo Olympics were planned for September-October," Wallechinsky said. "For 2020-2021, you see the power of television."
The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year's games.
Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the games were due to start.
"The schedule for the games is key to preparing for the games," Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said. "This will only accelerate our progress."
Last week, the IOC and Japanese organizers postponed the Olympics until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year's games were scheduled to open on July 24 and close on Aug. 9. But the near exact one-year delay will see the rescheduled closing ceremony on Aug. 8.
There had been talk of switching the Olympics to spring, a move that would coincide with the blooming of Japan's famous cherry blossoms. But it would also clash with European soccer and North American sports leagues.
Mori said a spring Olympics was considered but holding the games later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak.
"We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify," Mori said.
After holding out for weeks, local organizers and the IOC last week postponed the Tokyo Games under pressure from athletes, national Olympic bodies and sports federations. It's the first postponement in Olympic history, though there were several cancellations during wartime.
The Paralympics were rescheduled to Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
The new Olympic dates would conflict with the scheduled world championships in track and swimming, but those events are now expected to also be pushed back.
"The IOC has had close discussions with the relevant international federations," organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said. "I believe the IFs have accepted the games being held in the summer."
Muto said the decision was made Monday and the IOC said it was supported by all the international sports federations and was based on three main considerations: to protect the health of athletes, to safeguard the interests of the athletes and Olympic sport, and the international sports calendar.
"These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organisation of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," the IOC said. "The new dates ... also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFs."
Both Mori and Muto have said the cost of rescheduling the Olympics will be "massive" — local reports estimate billions of dollars — with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.
Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.
"Since it (the Olympics) were scheduled for this summer, all the venues had given up hosting any other events during this time, so how do we approach that?" Muto asked. "In addition, there will need to be guarantees when we book the new dates, and there is a possibility this will incur rent payments. So there will be costs incurred and we will need to consider them one by one. I think that will be the tougher process."
Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an emeritus professor of sports economics at Kansai University, puts the costs as high as $4 billion. That would cover the price of maintaining stadiums, refitting them, paying rentals, penalties and other expenses.
Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are twice that much. All of the spending is public money except $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget.
The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC's contribution goes into the operating budget.
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called the Tokyo Olympics the best prepared in history. However, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso also termed them "cursed." Aso competed in shooting in the 1976 Olympics, and was born in 1940.
The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were canceled because of Japan's war with China.
The run-up to the Olympics also saw IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda, who also headed the Japanese Olympic Committee, forced to resign last year amid a bribery scandal.
State Minister for Youth and Sports Md Zahid Ahsan Russel on Monday said all the stadiums across the country especially the indoor ones will be used for providing treatment to the coronavirus patients if needed.
“All the stadiums including the indoor ones will be used for providing medical services to the patients infected with coronavirus and we have already used those for the accommodation of the members of law enforcement agencies engaged for tackling coronavirus in the city as well as other parts of the country,” said Russel.
The Minister said that there are 80 stadiums in the capital and different distirts and the number mini-stadiums in different upazilas is 125.
“The government has taken all necessary preparations to tackle the spread of the coronavirus and we are prepared for tackling any situation,” he said.
Michael Phelps has been open about his mental health struggles, even as he became the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
Now, with the Tokyo Games on hold because of the coronavirus, the retired swimming great worries that some athletes may have trouble coping with this unprecedented postponement.
"It's a total bamboozle," Phelps told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "There's such a wave of emotions. I can't imagine what these athletes are going through right now."
In an telephone interview from his Arizona home, where he is largely hunkered down like so many others around the globe, Phelps gave reluctant praise to the International Olympic Committee for putting off the games until 2021 while the world deals with the pandemic.
"Honestly, my first thought was I was relieved," he said. "Now, there's more of a chance that we can beat this thing and do what we need to do to save as many lives as possible. I was happy to see them logically making a smart decision. It's just frustrating it took this long."
With the anticipated Olympic postponement now official, Phelps turned his attention to the world-class athletes who must deal with another jarring change to their preparations, even as they were still processing the cutbacks in training and lack of human contact stemming from worldwide efforts to curtail the virus.
Since his retirement in 2016, following an unprecedented Olympic career that produced 23 golds and 28 medals overall, Phelps has talked of suffering from depression and anxiety. He even had thoughts of suicide at his lowest points.
He knows this is a challenging time for those who had their sights on the Olympics, which were scheduled to open on July 24 but now have been delayed by up to a year.
"As athletes, we're so regimented," Phelps said. "At this point, all the work is done. We're just fine tuning the small things to get to this point. Now it's like, 'Oh ... we're not competing.' All these emotions start flaring up. I really think mental health is so important right now."
Phelps said the key to coping is keeping things as simple as possible.
"Just control what you can control," he said. "We're in such uncharted waters. We're getting all these big questions thrown at us: What if? What if? What if? It's so hard to understand. We're having a hard time just wrapping our head around it."
Thinking back to his own career, Phelps said he probably could have coped with a postponement just fine during the prime of his career because he had such steely focus on his goals. But he probably would have struggled with a delay leading up to the 2012 London Games, when his motivation was lagging and he wasn't even sure he wanted to compete.
"I was barely holding it together by the seams," Phelps recalled. "I don't know if I could've made it another year."
He retired after London, only to return to the pool less than two years later with a newfound passion that carried him to five more golds and a silver in Rio.
Phelps said he will gladly offer counseling and a shoulder to lean on to any athlete who is struggling over these next weeks and months.
"Some guys have already reached out, asking questions about what they can do," he said. "Anything I can do to support my friends and others who want to try to accomplish their goals and dreams, I'll do it. This is such a big time for mental health. It's more important now than it ever was before. I hope everybody is taking care of themselves mentally and physically at this time. I'm always available and open at any hour to anybody who needs help."
Now 34, Phelps is happily married with three young sons. Though he has no plans for another comeback, he is still involved in the sport through a swimwear company and other business ventures.
He was looking forward to attending the Olympics as a spectator for the first time. He hasn't been to Japan since his breakthrough performance at the 2001 world championships.
"I'm somebody who truly loves and enjoys watching the sport at the highest level," Phelps said. "I obviously know what it takes to get there. I was truly looking forward to seeing how everybody was doing."
He still plans to be at the Olympics.
But, like everyone else, his plans are hold.