The chairman of UK Athletics, the sport’s national governing body, has become the most senior British figure yet to call for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo to be postponed because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Nic Coward, who has also held senior roles at the Premier League, Football Association and the British Horseracing Authority, told the Guardian that he saw no other solution given the seriousness of the situation.
“Athletes and para-athletes have been preparing for the whole of their sporting lives to get themselves in the best possible shape for a day in July or August for the greatest test,” said Coward. “But with facilities closing down, their ability to get themselves in the best possible shape is compromised at best. That is creating intense pressure. And I think that intense pressure is what people have to understand is there and release it.
“The priority now is the health and welfare of individuals and to take the stress out of the system,” he added. “And that comes by telling the athletes it is not going to take place when they were told – and then for the authorities to take time in deciding when it should be staged in an orderly fashion.”
Despite the sporting calendar almost entirely wiped out for the foreseeable future, the International Olympic Committee has continued to maintain that it intends to stage the Games in July. However athletes, including Britain’s world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, are increasingly questioning the IOC’s approach when several countries are on lockdown, with facilities closed and competitions cancelled or postponed. Japan’s deputy prime minister, Tara Aso, said on Wednesday the Tokyo Games were “cursed”.
Coward admitted he expected the swell of athletes’ voices to grow in the coming days and weeks. “These are huge decisions and everyone is entirely sympathetic to the IOC, International Paralympic Committee and the Japanese government,” he said. “But listening to the athletes has to be the starting point, and I really think people need to wake up to the pressures on the Paralympic side too. It’s serious.”
“You don’t even have to say when the Games is going to happen. You just have to say it is not going to happen. That has huge consequences. We are talking about people in elite sport who tune themselves to arrive in July in perfect condition.
He added: “There may well be some athletes for whom any postponement, whether it is months or a year, makes a huge difference and we all have to have colossal sympathy for them. But the world is going through so much at the moment.”