The International Olympic Committee is facing almost irresistible pressure to postpone the Tokyo Olympics this week rather than wait until its mid-April deadline – with a growing number of athletes, governments and national federations saying it is unfair to keep them in limbo during the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Olympic Association is expected to add to the voices calling for a delay in the Games until 2021 when it meets today, with its chair Hugh Robertson admitting that if the virus continues as predicted: “I don’t think there is any way we can send a team”.
If there is a postponement it would be first time in the Games’ 124-year modern history, although the Games were cancelled in 1916, 1940 and 1944. But there seems little alternative for the IOC with so many athletes are unable to train properly with facilities shut and countries in lockdown.
Canada and Australia have already confirmed that they will not send athletes to Tokyo this summer, while the British and French governments have urged the IOC to make a quick decision.
That view is supported by British Olympic chiefs, especially given that many of the 600 Team GB athletes who are due to go to the Olympics and Paralympics are now unable to train as planned. Robertson admitted: “We can’t see any way that this can go ahead as things are constituted at the moment and I expect we will be joining Canada and Australia shortly.”
As the Guardian reported on Sunday, pushing back the Games until 2021 is by far the most likely option. Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has conceded postponement is now a possibility if the Games could not be held in their “complete form”.
IOC president Thomas Bach has said he will take the next four weeks to deal with the complex legal and financial issues before making a firm decision.
However a growing chorus of British athletes, including Dina Asher-Smith, Britain’s 200m world champion, are voicing their frustration at the IOC. “Does this mean that athletes face up to another FOUR weeks of finding ways to fit in training — whilst potentially putting ourselves, coaches, support staff and loved ones at risk just to find out they were going to be postponed anyway?” she wrote on Twitter.
Dai Greene, the former 400m hurdles world champion, said that he was having to flip tractor tyres on his partner’s farm and use bales of hay for box jumps to keep fit. “On Saturday morning, I went to recce the local 400m track by one of the private schools near where I live,” he added. “I even had a look at the fence and wondered to myself – can I jump over it?
He added: “The world’s athletes need answers now, not in mid April.”
Ed Warner, the chairman-designate of GB wheelchair rugby and a respected voice in British sport, told the Guardian that Bach had misjudged the mood of athletes by setting a four-week deadline on Sunday to decide the fate of the Games.
“The IOC has said it will make a decision in four weeks,” he said. “It hasn’t got that long. It probably has only got four days. The right thing for the IOC to do is to announce that it will postpone the Games immediately – and then use the next couple of weeks to decide when it will be,” he added. “Athletes have led the way on this and the IOC have trailed far them. That has to change.”
Warner also urged the IOC to heed the voices of Paralympians who are particularly worried about Covid-19. Athletes with a degree of paralysis from the chest downwards have reduced lung function, which means they are more vulnerable should they catch an infection. “Athlete welfare must always be our top priority,” Warner said.
Opposition to holding the event in July has risen sharply in recent days, with US Track and Field and UK Athletics among those calling for a delay because of the pandemic. Several countries, including Brazil, Norway and Slovenia, have also pressed the IOC to consider postponement but have not threatened a boycott.
The head of safety at the London 2012 Games, Lawrence Waterman, has also urged the Games to be delayed, saying that the need for precautions against coronavirus such as social distancing and self isolation means groups of people cannot be safely assembled to test the venues for crowd control “These games need to be postponed, and the sooner the IOC and the Japanese government face up to this the better. It’s simply not safe to put the games on during a global pandemic,” Waterman said in a statement. “People’s safety and health should come before the costs of delaying contracts.
Veteran IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today that the Games would be postponed, likely to 2021, with the details to be worked out in the next four weeks. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
Pound said he believed that the IOC would announce its next steps soon. “It will come in stages,” he said. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”