International Olympics Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach announced on Wednesday that the 2022 Youth Olympic Games, to be held in the Senegalese city of Dakar, were being postponed by four years and will now be held in 2026.
The news will come as a rude shock to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) which had plans to bid for the 2026 Youth Games, with Mumbai being touted as the host city.
According to reports, IOA had already written to the IOC with an expressions of interest. Countries like Thailand, Russia and Colombia were also in the race to host the 2026 event.
Talking to journalists after the IOC's Executive Board meeting, Bach said that Senegal and IOC have 'mutually agreed' to the postponement. The move has been approved by the IOC Executive Board and will be submitted for ratification at the 136th IOC Session on Friday.
"This postponement of Dakar 2022 allows the IOC, National Olympic Committees, and International Federations to better plan their activities which have been strongly affected by the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the subsequent postponement of other international sports events, and by the operational and financial consequences of the global health crisis."
Bach pointed out how the IOC, the International Federations and National Olympic Committees would be left grappling with operational challenges that arose from preparing for five Olympics in the span of three years.
"This was a too heavy workload for everybody," he said.
The Dakar Youth Olympics will be the first Olympic event ever to be organised on the African continent.
At IOA's Annual General Meeting in December 2019, president Narinder Batra had said: "The first preference is the Youth Olympics for sure. If we get to host the Commonwealth Games (in 2026 or 2030) as well, we will do both."
Bach said they had not had the time to discuss with NOCs and cities interested in bidding for the 2026 Olympics before pushing the Dakar YOG to 2026, but added that those countries now will be in a 'privileged position' for the 2030 YOG. "We'll contact them soon, but I'm sure they will understand our position," he said.
The Indian contingent had returned from the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires with a record 13 medals, including three golds.
Tokyo 2020 not behind closed doors
With the Dakar Youth Games being pushed ahead by a whole Olympic cycle, Bach was asked about the chances of Tokyo Olympics being held in 2021 in the face of the coronavirus pandemic continuing. The Tokyo Olympics, which were scheduled for July-August 2020, had to be deferred by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. There are still doubts whether they can be held if a vaccine for COVID-19 is not found and made available for the masses.
"The IOC will follow the principle we have established before the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics: the first priority is safety of the participants. For this reason, we're working on multiple scenarios for the organisation of the Games. We don't know how the health situation will be one year from now.
"These questions are being dealt with by the Joint Task Force and we continue to be guided by the advice of the World Health Organization. Based on the ever-developing situation, we're preparing multiple scenarios to deal with the health situation next year."
Bach, on being asked if one of those multiple scenarios being considered by IOC and Tokyo Games organisers was playing behind closed doors, i.e. without spectators, said: "It includes different counter-measures such as quarantine. But Olympic Games behind closed doors is something we do not want. We're working for a solution that safeguards the health of participants but also reflects the Olympic spirit."
The organisers of Tokyo 2020 have said in the past that a further postponement of the Games will not be possible considering the Winter Olympics are to be hosted by Beijing in 2022.
Bach on being asked to reiterate his stance about there being no chance of further postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, said: "We're working with our Japanese partners to celebrate the Games next year. The situation of Dakar Games can be in no way compared to Tokyo 2020. We remain fully committed to celebrating Tokyo 2020 next year in July and August."