IOC faces monumental Tokyo Games decision amid coronavirus pandemic
HAMBURG – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has shown in the past it can defy major criticism but the pressure it is now facing amid the coronavirus pandemic for the Tokyo Games could be unprecedented.
National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are calling for a postponement, and so are the powerful American athletics and swim federations, as well as athletes.
The IOC and its president Thomas Bach are however, for now, plowing on with their plans to hold the Games as scheduled between July 24 and August 9, and at least not saying in public when a final decision would be made.
Bach has acknowledged they are looking at different scenarios as well but rules out a full cancellation which in the past only came in 1916 owing to World War I, and 1040 and 1944 during World War II.
On Saturday, he told German SWR radio: "A cancellation would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes from 206 national Olympic committees and the IOC refugee team.
"Such a cancellation would be the least fair solution."
Bach is a 1976 fencing gold medallist whose second Olympics four years later never happened because West Germany joined the US-led boycottof the Moscow Games after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
He argued in a similar way around the Russian doping saga when the IOC stopped short of a blanket ban at Rio 2016 and allowed Russians to compete as neutrals 2018 in Pyeongchang.
However, as unfair as Bach may see a cancellation, the scenario rather considered as that of a postponement because federations and athletes say holding the Games on schedule would be highly unfair as well.
Many athletes can't train because the countries are under lockdown while others in less affected areas can train on. Qualifying events have been scrapped which could lead to new entry standards, and regular doping control is also all but impossible, possibly opening the door for cheaters - at least in the buildup.
"The alternative of moving forward in light of the current global situation would not be in the best interest of our athletes (as difficult as that decision might be)," US athletics chief Max Siegel wrote in an open letter to the nation's Olympic Committee.
Swimming's Tim Hinchey said: "Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all. Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities."
Due to its vast success on the playing field, its major IOC sponsors, and huge television rights money paid by NBC, the US has an importance the IOC simply can not ignore.
Both the athletics and swim federations have asked their Olympic commitee to call for a postponement until 2021 - and similar calls have come from athletics bosses in Germany and Britain.
British hetathlon Katarina Johnson-Thompson tweeted earlier in the week that the IOC and governments are "at odds with one another" when it comes to advice.
"The IOC advice 'encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympics Games as best as they can' with the Olympics only four months away but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home, with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed," she said.
Bach has insisted that owing to the vast complexity Olympics can't be pushed back as easily as other events, such as the European and South American football championships which are both now to be held next year.
A switch to 2022 would possibly deny many athletes a chance to compete, and even more going back to 2024, and pushing Paris to 2028 and Los Angeles to 2032. And 2022 already has the Beijing Winter Games and Dakar Youth Olympics.
A move to 2021 may be more realistic but next year also sees long arranged world championships in all summer sports, including in the showcase sports of swimming and athletics which would both overlap with the Olympics should they keep their 2020 slot.
These championships in Fukuoka, Japan (swimming) and Eugene, Oregon (athletics) could however possibly be moved to slightly other 2021 dates or 2022, where however continental championships plus the Commonwealth and Asian Games are scheduled.
In addition, the flats of the Olympic and Paralympic Village in Tokyo for 11,000 athletes plus officials are to be sold from autumn 2020 onwards.
It will take a monumental effort to reschedule the Games for which Japan has spent some 13 billion dollars and which it sees as a signal of hope after the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown from 2011. Tokyo was already unable to host the 1940 event because of the war, before staging the 1964 competition.
The IOC has been holding conference calls with various stakeholders and athletes representatives over the past days and is in constant contact with the World Health Organization as well.
A final decision will be made by the IOC, the city of Tokyo and the Japanese Olympic Committee, the three parties that signed the host city contract when Tokyo landed the Games in 2013.
Bach has said it is too early for such a move four months ahead of the Games but the vagueness has infuriated many who finally want a clear signal as to when a decision will be made.
"Communicate the process to the athletes!" former American sprint great Michael Johnson tweeted.dpa