Japan and the Olympics movement were deciding on Tuesday whether to postpone this year's Tokyo Games as the coronavirus crisis made an unprecedented delay seem inevitable, possibly into 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Japan and the Olympics movement were deciding on Tuesday whether to postpone this year's Tokyo Games as the coronavirus crisis made an unprecedented delay seem inevitable, possibly into 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

To athletes' relief, Tokyo 2020 delay looks inevitable

By Karolos Grohmann and Leika Kihara Time of article published Mar 24, 2020

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ATHENS/TOKYO  Japan and the Olympics movement were deciding on Tuesday whether to postpone this year's Tokyo Games as the coronavirus crisis made an unprecedented delay seem inevitable, possibly into 2021.

To the consternation of athletes, the July 24-Aug. 9 Olympics have been the last imminent major sporting event left standing as most of the world goes into virtual lockdown.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan's repeated insistence that the event would go ahead as scheduled - and then their weekend announcement of a lengthy, one-month consultation over possible postponement - angered many.

With billions of dollars and political prestige at stake, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, IOC President Thomas Bach, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and Tokyo 2020 head Yoshiro Mori spoke by phone on Tuesday, officials and media said.

Organisers were focusing on a potential one-year delay, two Japanese newspapers reported. Abe asked Bach to reach a decision as soon as possible and was due to brief reporters about the phone call, public broadcaster NHK said.

The Olympics have never been delayed in their 124-year modern history, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars. Major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984.

"I compete in a little bike race, which is nothing compared to what is going on in the world right now," American Olympic BMX champion Connor Fields said. "No sport is more important if it means more people might potentially die from this."

BACH IN HOT SEAT

Pressure on the IOC and its powerful president Bach had been accelerating fast in recent days, with Canada, like Australia, saying it would not participate if the Games went ahead.

Other nations have pressed hard for a postponement and a quick decision by the Olympic body to end uncertainty.

IOC executives were to hold an emergency meeting later on Tuesday, a source said.

"We would have wished that we already had by now a clear statement that the Games would definitely not take place at the planned date and that now alternatives were being considered," said German Olympic Sports Confederation head Alfons Hoermann.

Athletes, though sad, were mainly in agreement with a delay, given health risks and disruption to their training as gyms, stadia and swimming pools shut down around the world.

"Heartbroken but not surprised," said two-time Olympic champion swimmer Cate Campbell, whose nation Australia withdrew from the summer Games even before a formal postponement announcement.

"To be honest, I'm left reeling and feeling a little lost. But the goal posts haven't disappeared - just shifted. It's time to recalibrate and fire up for the next challenge."

The coronavirus outbreak has raged around the world, infecting nearly 380,000 people, killing more than 16,500 and wrecking sports events from the soccer Euros to Formula One.

The Athletics Association said a survey of more than 4,000 track and field competitors showed 78% wanted the Games delayed.

"Asking athletes to risk their physical and mental health preparing for an Olympic Games in the middle of a pandemic that is crippling the world is unfair, immoral and shows a huge lack of empathy," it said.

JUMPER WITHOUT A SANDPIT

The association's American founder, twice Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, is among athletes unable to train due to social distancing and closure of facilities.

"There is no sandpit for me, I have not put on jump spikes for two weeks," he told Britain's Times newspaper.

The United States, by far the most successful nation in the history of the modern summer Games, added its weight to calls for a delay. The rights deal with American broadcaster NBC to televise the Olympics represents 50%-70% of IOC annual revenues.

Japan and the IOC have said calling off the Games entirely is not an option, but a delay would present major logistical difficulties given the crowded global sporting calendar and complex commercial considerations.

World Athletics has said it would be willing to move the 2021 world championships, scheduled for Aug. 6-15 in Eugene, Oregon, to clear a path for a 2021 Olympics.

Postponement would be a massive blow for hosts Japan, which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment, while huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.

But a poll showed about 70% of the Japanese think a delay is appropriate.

(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Nick Mulvenney and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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