The International Olympic Committee has announced it is considering a possible postponement of the Tokyo Games and will finalise a decision within four weeks as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.
- Opposition to holding the Games in July has risen sharply in the past 48 hours
- Dozens of individual athletes have come out against the IOC’s current stance to start the Games on July 24
- The Olympics has never been postponed or cancelled during peacetime
The IOC said discussions would include an option of pushing back the July 24 start date or even moving the Games by at least a year, but said cancelling the event would not solve problems or help anybody.
“Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda,” the IOC said in a statement after an emergency meeting on Sunday.
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On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said postponing the Tokyo Olympic Games may be an option if holding the event in “complete form” became impossible.
Mr Abe also told Parliament that cancelling the Games was not an option.
The Olympics have never been postponed or cancelled during peacetime, but the IOC’s decision to even consider postponement was met with relief from several major stakeholders, including World Athletics, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and major national Olympic committees.
Under mounting pressure from athletes, federations and national committees to postpone the Games, the IOC did a partial U-turn on Sunday after long insisting, with Tokyo organisers, that the Games would go ahead as planned.
Only last week the IOC president, Thomas Bach, insisted that there was “No Plan B”.
The IPC, whose Tokyo Paralympics are set for August 25 to September 6, said the IOC took the right decision under the circumstances.
“The next four weeks will provide time to see if the global health situation improves, while giving a window of opportunity to look into different scenarios should the dates of the Games need to be changed,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said.
World Athletics, the global governing body for the sport, said it was ready to work “with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date”.
More than 13,000 people have died globally since the coronavirus outbreak began and its epicentre is now in Europe.
Opposition to holding the Games in July has risen sharply in the past 48 hours, with several major stakeholders such as US Track and Field and UK Athletics along with several national Olympic committees, calling for a delay because of the pandemic.
‘Athletes want to be part of a solution’
The IOC’s announcement came shortly after Global Athlete — a worldwide group representing Olympic hopefuls — called on the organisation to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until the coronavirus pandemic was under control.
“As the world unites to limit the spread of COVID-19 virus, the IOC … must do the same,” Global Athlete said in a press release on Sunday.
The show of solidarity among Olympic hopefuls added to the dozens of individual athletes who had come out against the IOC’s stance to start the Games as scheduled on July 24.
The IOC has been in consultation with the World Health Organisation and was sticking to the position that it was too early for drastic decisions.
“It’s bizarre the IOC hasn’t shown any real leadership,” said Caradh O’Donovan, a Global Athlete founder from Ireland whose karate training has been put on hold due to restrictions in her country.
“They’re acting as though it’s business as usual and it just seems very strange.”
O’Donovan said the unevenness around the globe regarding training, doping control and qualifying standards were among her key concerns — thoughts echoed by a number of athletes on social media and in interviews with the media over the past few days.
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The Global Athlete statement said, “athletes want to be part of a solution to ensure the Games are a success”.
“But under the current global restrictions that are limiting public gatherings as well as closing training facilities and borders, athletes do not have the ability to appropriately prepare for these Games, and their health and safety must come first,” the statement said.
On Saturday, US Olympian, hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones said she was hoping the IOC would respond with a postponement.
“If our job as Olympians and Olympic hopefuls is to inspire society and be healthy, we’re going in direct conflict with that by going out in public to find gyms and tracks and pools that are still open to train for the Games,” she said.
“Some people are doing that because the IOC is telling us to stay ready, to keep training.”
It’s a thought being echoed by the Global Athlete group.
“My dream is to go to the Olympics this year but it’s an impossible task from my perspective and it’s the same for a huge number of athletes,” O’Donovan said.
“I’d be absolutely stunned if they go on in July, as planned.”