U.S. Olympic organisers joined calls for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the International Olympic Committee, according to member Dick Pound, has decided to delay the event, likely for a year.
Major sporting nations Australia and Canada withdrew on Monday as organisers came under mounting pressure to postpone the event for the first time in its 124-year modern history.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it had listened to feedback from athletes and was encouraged by a clearer path towards postponement.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the USOPC said in a statement on Monday.
Japan and the IOC have said calling off the Games entirely is not an option. But finding a new date could be complicated as the summer 2021 calendar is already crowded, while 2022 will see the soccer World Cup and the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Japan’s government is negotiating with the IOC to postpone the Games by a year at most, the Sankei newspaper reported on Tuesday, adding that a poll showed about 70% of the Japanese think it is appropriate to delay the Olympics.
An Olympics postponement would be a blow for host country Japan, which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment, and huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.
But a groundswell of concern from athletes – already struggling to train as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools close around the world – appeared to be tipping the balance, along with the cancellation of other major sports events.
More than 350,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus worldwide and over 15,000 have died in a pandemic that the World Health Organisation said was accelerating.
The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars, and major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984 respectively.
“The moment the IOC indicates that it is thinking about other solutions, it has already decided to delay the Games,” said French Olympic Committee President Denis Masseglia.
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