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  • Writer's pictureVillanova Sports Law Blog

Coronavirus, the Olympics’ Most Challenging Event

By: Grant Farmer

In response to the spread of the Coronavirus, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo’s organizing committee have agreed to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympic Games until 2021. The Olympics is still planned to be held in the host city of Tokyo, but it is now scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021 and conclude on August 8, 2021. [1] This marks an unprecedented event for the Summer Olympics, as it is the only time the event has ever been postponed. While the Olympics was canceled in 1916 due to World War I and again in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II, this postponement evidences the magnitude of the virus’s impact. [2]

This delay in the games, while optimistic in tone, assumes that the battle with the Coronavirus will be successfully won, well in advance of the July 2021 goal date. Even if the 2021 Olympics proceed as planned, there are a variety of legal implications resulting from the postponement. For example, it will undoubtedly burden the advertising and sponsorship deals already established with some of television’s largest networks. Thomas Cooke, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, predicts that NBC alone will likely lose nearly 1.2 billion in advertisement revenue. [3] Cooke further suggests that NBC will be unable to recover the lost revenue, given that all their advertising was purchased for an event that will no longer take place as originally scheduled. [4]

Moreover, some of the largest and best-known sponsors may be negatively impacted by this postponement. Some of the Olympics’ most notable sponsors like Coca-Cola and Panasonic have already purchased millions of dollars in advertising and marketing materials, in hopes of reaching a global audience, for an event which is, at best, going to happen a year from the date it was originally scheduled. [5] However, the organizations likely to realize the largest financial detriment from the 2020 Olympics’ postponement will be the insurance providers whose policies provided coverage against loss for the IOC and other Olympic organizers. [6]

Those insurance companies will likely be required to compensate the claimants for loss commensurate with their policies. With the 2020 Olympics projecting a cost of nearly $30 billion to date, clearly insurance coverage was a necessity. [7] For instance, the IOC held a policy for $14 million to protect against the cancellation of the 2016 Summer Olympics. [8] The detailed minutiae within the wording of the policies and whether they include cancellations and postponements based on such an unpredicted world event as the pandemic of 2020, remains to be seen. [9]

Furthermore, a full complement of service contracts will need re-evaluation to ensure that the postponement is viable, given that “organizers will have to rebook the 14,000-strong security team and finish training the 80,000 volunteers whose preparations were interrupted by COVID-19.” [10] Most critical to hosting the Olympics is obviously ensuring that the facilities are both adequate and available for 2021. Furthermore, Tokyo’s organizing committee will have to verify that the Olympic facilities and arenas to be used in 2020, will be available in 2021. For those venues which are unavailable, the committee will have to scout and secure new sites that are suitable for Olympic play within a very short search window.

Given the complex and multifaceted efforts required to host the Olympics, from securing sponsors, to coordinating organizers, to providing for all the individual athletes, I find it unlikely that the committee in Tokyo will have adequate time offer the 2021 Olympics in the same template that 2020 would have afforded. Additionally, there are still a variety of significant obstacles that will have to be overcome. Fear of the spread of the Coronavirus must be negated before global travel bans and stay-at-home orders, currently levied by countries throughout the world, will be lifted.

All the planning and preparation currently in progress only realize a viable outcome if the global environment and venue specific areas are deemed safe for collective spectator, staff, and athlete occupancy by that future timeframe. Moreover, assuming the Olympics could even begin at the new date, all individuals at each of the venues, ranging from fans to staff to athletes would likely have to sign a waiver of liability in the wake of the deadly virus.

Recently, Tony Estanguet, the head of the organizing committee for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games, said that the 2020 Olympics’ postponement would have “No the 2024 Games will be held in the summer of 2024.” [11] Given Estanguet’s focus, I do not anticipate that the postponed 2020 Olympics will ever be realized if it does not take place in the summer of 2021, as an additional postponement would affect the athletes’ qualifying for subsequent Summer Olympic Games.

The Coronavirus, the pandemic of 2020, may very well be the most ruthless opponent the Olympic Games have ever encountered. Regardless as to when the games are witnessed, the real 2020 Olympics has begun and is playing out in communities across the world, in a contest of man against nature, in a fight for all of humanity. United we stand; divided we fall. Let the games begin.


[1] Yuliya Talmazan, New dates announced for Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed over coronavirus concerns, NBC News, (March 30,2020),

[2] Kelly Cohen, Tokyo 2020 Olympics officially postponed until 2021, ESPN, (March 24, 2020),

[3] Alex Reimer, Tokyo Olympics Postponement Will Have Devastating Impact On Sports TV Revenue, Experts Say, Forbes, (March 25, 2020), have-crippling-impact-on-sports-tv-revenue-experts-say/#593191a56b3a

[4] Id.

[5] Michael McCann, The Legal Complications of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postponement. Sports Illustrated, (March 24, 2020)

[6] Id.

[7] Tom Hamilton, What postponing the 2020 Olympics means for host city Tokyo, ESPN, (March 24, 2020)

[8] Michael McCann, The Legal Complications of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postponement. Sports Illustrated, (March 24, 2020)

[9] Id.

[10] Tom Hamilton, What postponing the 2020 Olympics means for host city Tokyo, ESPN, (March 24, 2020)

[11] Tokyo postponement has 'no impact' on Paris 2024 Olympics, says organizer, Yahoo Sports, (March 24,2020)

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