Tokyo 2020 Olympics: From Postponement to Calls for Cancellation, Here's Everything You Need to Know

A group of activists demonstrate outside the hotel where IOC president Thomas Bach is staying in Tokyo on July 17, 2021, calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo Courtesy: Yuki Iwamura/AFP/Getty Images

Since the first modern Olympic Games, which were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, the Summer Games have only been canceled three times — once in 1916 during World War I and twice in the 1940s during World War II. Of course, there were several other times the Games should have been canceled — and, for many, this year's Olympics fall into that category.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government announced the postponement of the Games back in March 2020. It wasn't a cancellation, though it still felt unprecedented. But, as the Games kick off, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. Just days before the Opening Ceremony, Time reported that "about 75 people linked to the Olympics have tested positive for COVID-19 so far." Not to mention, in countries and cities all over the globe there have been surges in positive cases, many of which are linked to the Delta variant, a highly contagious new strain

On June 22, Tokyo's third state of emergency expired and, within weeks, another COVID-19 surge caused officials to declare a fourth state of emergency. Despite all of this, the Olympic torch relay continued, and IOC president Thomas Bach doubled down on carrying on with the Games. Writing for Slate, Eric Margolis notes that just 17% of the population in Japan is fully vaccinated.

The IOC's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also led protestors to shine more light on other harms associated with the Olympics. For example, each Games leads to a slew of abandoned venues, the displacement of both housed and unhoused locals as well as Indigenous communities, and detrimental pollution and other environmental degradation. With all of this in mind, it's no wonder more and more protestors are calling for the Olympics to be canceled. Margolis echoes this sentiment, writing, "[A]fter two years of reporting on the Olympics, I’m not grateful that these Games are about to come at all." 

With the Games kicking off today — despite calls for cancelation — we're taking a look at everything you need to know about this controversial competition, from the Olympics’ initial postponement to the recent increase in mainstream anti-Olympic sentiment.