The International Olympic Committee is facing its strongest headwinds in decades as it prepares to brief national committees on Wednesday on the state of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic, with voices of dissent growing louder.
The IOC has remained committed to staging the Tokyo Games as planned from 24 July to 9 August, saying on Tuesday after a meeting with international sports federations that measures against the virus were delivering results. The coronavirus has so far killed more than 7,500 people and infected about 200,000, with the epicentre now in Europe.
The IOC has refused to publicly consider cancellation or postponement as possible options, even as other major events including football’s Euro 2020 and Copa América and the French Open tennis grand slam announced postponements on Tuesday. The virus has also wreaked havoc with Olympic qualification tournaments with athletes struggling to train, travel or compete and many pre-Games qualifiers cancelled or postponed.
Tokyo is set to host some 11,000 athletes and 53% have already earned their spot at the Games. The remaining 43% will clinch their place through modified qualifiers, or previous performances based on ranking. Under the current exceptional circumstances, the IOC said, solutions needed to be found that were appropriate, though they might not be ideal for all athletes.
“This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions,” the IOC told Reuters on Wednesday. “The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes’ health. No solution will be ideal in this situation, and this is why we are counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes.”
IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser called the decision to proceed with the Games “insensitive and irresponsible” in the most vocal attack on the Olympic body since president Thomas Bach took over in 2013.
Several athletes, including world heptathlon champion Katarine Johnson-Thompson and reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the IOC decision was putting athletes’ health at risk, urging them to train as normal when entire countries have shut down to contain the virus spread.
“There is no postponement, no cancellation. But it [the IOC] is putting us at risk,” Stefanidi told Reuters. “We all want Tokyo to happen but what is the Plan B if it does not happen?
“Knowing about a possible option has a major effect on my training because I may be taking risks now that I would not take if I knew there was also the possibility of a Plan B.”