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‘Postpone the Olympics for all our sakes’

Athletes, governments and sporting bodies urge the IOC not to hold the games this summer

ATHLETES, governments and sporting bodies intensified calls to postpone the Olympic Games today, after organisers said that it may take as many as four weeks to reach a decision.

The International Olympic Committee issued a statement late on Sunday claiming that up to four weeks of discussion may be needed to assess “the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement.”

But today the Athletics Association — a track & field union led by Olympic athletes Christian Taylor and Emma Coburn — demanded a swift decision after warning that competitors are being asked to “risk their physical and mental health preparing for an Olympic Games in the middle of a pandemic that is crippling the world.”

“Whilst we appreciate being told about the new time frame,” the union’s statement says, “we feel it’s unfair to ask athletes to continue to live and train in this limbo.

“Athletes are risking their health as well as the health of their coaches and families, and indeed wider society, to continue to prepare for an Olympic Games that is likely to be postponed.”

The association’s survey of 4,000 track & field athletes found that 78 per cent thought that the Olympics should be postponed. 72 per cent also did not believe that the games can go ahead as they were formerly planned.

And 87 per cent reported that their preparation for Tokyo 2020 has been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, the 200-metres world title holder and a backer of the union, said that the IOC’s delay created further uncertainty for competitors, who are “potentially putting [themselves], coaches, support staff and loved ones at risk just to find out they were going to be postponed anyway.”

And ​​​​​Callum Skinner, a 2016 Olympic cycling champion for Britain, said: “IOC president Thomas Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance has spectacularly failed in this instance …

“This isn’t the first time he has put his own motives above the athletes and the movement.”

The British government asked for an urgent and decisive decision by the IOC to protect athletes, fans and officials.

And if it’s not postponed, the chair of the British Olympic Association warned today that Great Britain is unlikely to be able to send a team.

“I think it is very simple. If the virus continues as predicted by the government, I don't think there is any way we can send a team,” Hugh Robertson said today.

“And I base that on two things. Firstly, I don’t see any way that the athletes and Team GB could be ready by then …

“Second, there is the appropriateness of holding an Olympic Games at a time like this.”

UK Sport and the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations will hold a conference call with tournament chief executives and performance directors tomorrow to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the ability of competitors to train.

The dangers around training were also cited as part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s decision today to not send athletes to the games.

A statement said: “While we recognise the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community.

“This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health.

“With Covid-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these games.”

Meanwhile the Australian Olympic Committee told its athletes to prepare for a games held “in the northern summer of 2021.”

The nation’s Tokyo 2020 co-ordinator Ian Chesterman said in a statement: “It’s clear the games can’t be held in July.

“Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty has been extremely challenging for them …

“While there will still be much to work out as a result of this change, the timing will allow athletes from around the world to properly prepare with the hope the coronavirus crisis will be under control.”

Olympic committees in Brazil and Slovenia called for postponement until 2021, while Norway’s Olympic body said that it did not want athletes going to Tokyo until the global health crisis is under control.

The US governing bodies for swimming and track athletics likewise called on their national Olympic officials to push for a postponement.

After many of the announcements were made as Japan slept, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted today that a postponement may be necessary.

“If it is difficult to hold [the games] in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable,” he warned.

Abe joined calls for a quick decision by the IOC, which was echoed by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike.

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