THE International Olympic Committee (IOC) is considering the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games. It’s an announcement that is both obvious, considering that the devastating impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having across the world, but also a major step. Unpicking the web of commitments that had the Games set to start at the end of July is a mammoth undertaking. But it’s one that must be considered and planned for, both for the well being of athletes and spectators and also as the imperative to reduce the spread of the virus becomes ever more pressing.
On Sunday night officials from the Tokyo 2020 organising body had an urgent video conference with the IOC. While the Games are currently scheduled to begin on July 24, today (Monday March 23) the IOC stated that they will step up planning for alternative scenarios.
They said: “These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on July 24 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games. This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan. It will serve as the basis for the best decision in the interest of the athletes and everyone else involved.
“The IOC is confident that it will have finalised these discussions within the next four weeks, and greatly appreciates the solidarity and partnership of the [national Olympic committees] and [international federations] in supporting the athletes and adapting Games planning.”
The IOC have given themselves a month to appraise the situation and come to a new conclusion, which most likely would be a delay. Cancellation they insist is not under consideration. In fact they emphasised “that a cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda.”
A statement from Tokyo 2020 said: “We agreed to proceed with detailed discussions of different scenarios, including postponement of the Games, in full coordination with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Government of Japan, relevant Japanese authorities, international sport federations and National Olympic Committees.
“As the IOC has stated, due to the extreme complexity of the Games, a final decision has not been reached at this time, and discussions will be finalised within the next four weeks. Cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Games is not on the agenda.”
It remains to be seen on what timeframes new dates for a potentially rescheduled Olympic Games will be under discussion.
Japan’s political leadership does want the Games to take place in full. But Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has for the first time acknowledged delay is an option, another seismic shift in their public stance.
“If it is difficult to hold the Games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone it, giving top priority to [the health of the] athletes,” Abe told a parliamentary session, Kyodo News reports.
All this comes as pressure from bodies representing Olympic athletes mounts. Canada revealed they would not send a team to an Olympic Games in 2020. They want it held back by a year. Australia’s Olympic committee expect that eventuality. World Athletics have also called on the IOC to postpone Tokyo 2020.
Boxing, like many other sports, has had its Olympic qualification process brought to a complete standstill during the coronavirus pandemic as events cannot be held. All Olympic hopefuls have had their own preparations affected as countries have shut down training centres and gyms to try to contain the spread of the virus.
In a letter to athletes IOC president Thomas Bach stated that safeguarding the health of everyone involved and contributing to contain the virus is the fundamental principle.
“Our basis of information today is that a final decision about the date of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 now would still be premature,” he wrote.
“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games. The IOC wants to be part of the solution. Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus. I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, [national Olympic committees] and [international federations] from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.”