Sebastian Coe has admitted that “nobody is saying we will be going to the Games come what may” as the debate over whether the Tokyo Olympics should be staged this summer continues to intensify.
A growing number of athletes and athlete representatives, including Britain’s world heptathlon champion, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and the Olympic pole vault gold medallist, Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, have expressed their concerns about being able to prepare for the Games with much of Europe in lockdown. The president of World Athletics has now accepted that nothing is off the table in terms of future planning – including moving the Games to September or October – because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That is possible, anything is possible at the moment,” said Lord Coe, who was also in charge of the London 2012 Olympics. “I think the position that sport has taken, and it was certainly the temperature of the room in the conversation I had the other day with the IOC and our other federations, is that nobody is saying we will be going to the Games come what may.”
Nevertheless, Coe does not believe a decision has to be taken yet. “It may be that over the course of changing events, and they’re changing by the hour, that that is something we have to confront,” he said. “But it isn’t a decision that has to be made at this moment.”
Asked if the Olympics could be delayed until 2021, Coe added: “That seems on the surface of it an easy proposition, but member federations actually avoid Olympic years often to have their world championships. Athletics has its world championships at exactly those dates that you’re talking about in 2021 in the United States [6-15 August] so it’s not quite as easy as just saying we’ll move one down.
“The European football championships have moved to next year, that too would clash. The sporting calendar is a very complicated matrix, it’s not
that simple to just simply say we’ll ease one event from one year to the next. We have done that with our own world indoor championships but that doesn’t clash with anything else at the same time.”
As for the prospect of combining the Olympics and the world championships next year, Coe told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It would be ridiculous of me to say anything is ruled out at the moment. We are living in an environment where everything is changing very quickly, the whole world wants clarity, that’s just simply not possible at the moment and we’re no different from any other sector.”
Meanwhile the four-times Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent has increased his criticism of the IOC, saying it would be “folly” to allow the Olympics to go ahead. “I think it’s the IOC saying we must try and get through if we can, which I have a degree of sympathy with, it just runs counter to what every health authority and government is saying around the world,” Pinsent told the Today programme.
“On a global front we have other priorities and I think the Olympics should at the very least be saying we should postpone or indeed just cancel at this stage and we’ll talk about postponement later on. I just don’t think there’s much of a choice at this stage. For much of the European countries as well as Asian countries, organised sport in any meaningful way has ceased and that’s from government advice. I don’t see there’s any way forward for an Olympic athlete to train effectively even as an individual but particularly in a team environment.”