Japan: The debut of Airbnb’s partnership with the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees [IOC and IPC] is being delayed until 2021 after it was agreed earlier today [24 March] that Tokyo 2020 would be postponed until next summer.
The decision was reached after talks were held between Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe and the IOC president, Thomas Bach, with the pair agreeing the best decision was to delay the games as a response to the worldwide disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to reporters, Abe said: “We agreed that a postponement would be the best way to ensure that the athletes are in peak condition when they compete and to guarantee the safety of the spectators.”
The IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee later put out their own statement saying 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”.
It is a first for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, having never before been postponed, though the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games were cancelled due to the two World Wars.
The news, albeit expected, represent a significant blow to Airbnb, after the home-sharing platform was named a Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner [in the Unique Accommodation Products and Unique Experiences Services category] back in November 2019 in an estimated $500 million deal.
The partnership is a long-term agreement, which was due to begin this year and last for the next two Olympic Games [in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028], as well as the next five editions of the Paralympic Games and the next two Winter Olympic Games [in Beijing in 2022 and Milan-Cortina in 2026].
Speaking at the time of the announcement, Bach and Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia called the deal a “landmark partnership” and a “transformative agreement”.
Under the terms of the agreement, the two entities are aiming to help and encourage travellers visiting the Games to see more of the countries they visit and mix with local communities in immersive social activities.
On the back of the partnership announcement, Airbnb also launched Olympian Experiences as the latest addition to its growing Experiences series, whereby travellers signing up to the programme can meet and train with Olympic athletes.
According to Bach, one of the goals of the agenda is to “make the Olympic Games more feasible and more sustainable” by generating direct revenue for the host community. It aims to do this by providing guaranteed accommodation for visitors, families of athletes, and officials, thereby reducing the need for host cities to invest significantly in new hotels.
The president added that it would bring the Games “into the digital age”.
Despite the Games being delayed by a year, the Olympic flame will remain in Japan as a “beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times” after being lit earlier this week in its eternal home in the Greek capital of Athens.
The IOC and IPC’s hands were effectively tied after coming under mounting pressure in recent weeks to postpone the Games. Canada and Australia had already announced they would refuse to send their athletes this summer, while the British and French governments urged the committees to make a swift decision owing to the disruption of athletes’ training schedules and qualifying processes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Only a couple of days ago, Tokyo’s organising committee and the Japanese Government were refuting claims that the Games would have to be delayed as they were scheduled to kick off in four months’ time. However, the postponement has now been confirmed after Abe performed a quick u-turn.
On Monday, IOC member Dick Pound concluded that a year’s postponement was the most likely solution to the escalating global health crisis.
The move to postpone also represents a major blow to Japan as the host country, having already spent an estimated $12 billion to stage the Games in 2020. The financial repercussions are being seen as one reason for the committee and government’s hesitancy to delay the events.
Japan’s finance minister Taro Aso referred to an ominous 40-year Olympic “curse” that saw the 1940 Olympics cancelled because of World War Two and the 1980 Moscow Games marred by political boycotts.
It is a problem that Airbnb could itself do without at a time when its own protracted IPO is rumoured to be held back until next year due to the pandemic.