World Athletics president Lord Coe has called for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo to be postponed. In a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Coe says that an Olympics in July 2020 is “neither feasible or desirable” because of the coronavirus crisis. The IOC has given itself four weeks to decide on the future of the 2020 Games.
Options include a delay of several months or, more probably, a year from the scheduled start on 24 July. Cancellation is “not on the agenda”, says the IOC, but a “scaled-down” Games will also be considered. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe told his country’s parliament on Monday that a postponement of Tokyo 2020 would be unavoidable if they cannot be held in a complete way. On Sunday, Canada became the first major country to withdraw from this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics. The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committee said it had taken “the difficult decision” to pull out after consulting athletes, sports groups, and the government. It then “urgently called” on the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organization to postpone the games for a year. In his letter to Bach, which followed a conference call between himself and area presidents of the Olympic federations, Coe said: “No-one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but as I have said publicly, we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety, and a decision on the Olympic Games must become very obvious very quickly. “I believe that time has come and we owe it to our athletes to give them respite where we can.”
In his letter, the double Olympic 1500m champion listed three main reasons for delaying the 2020 Games:
- Competition fairness – “Every one of my area presidents believes that we can no longer expect a fair and level playing field in our sport given the number of athletes who are struggling to train in various countries due to measures put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus.”
- Risk of injury – “If athletes are unable to train properly now we both know, as we have both been there, they will push themselves even harder closer to an Olympic Games, which will increase the propensity for injury.”
- Emotional wellbeing of athletes – “The uncertainty of the Olympic Games happening in July and the inherent desire and motivation to excel that resides in all our athletes is causing real anguish that we can, collectively, put a stop to.”
The subject of athlete welfare was also highlighted by Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita, who told reporters on Monday that too long of a delay to Tokyo 2020 would be a burden to athletes preparing for the games. In his own letter, addressed to athletes and published on Sunday, Bach said the IOC is “in a dilemma” and “a final decision about the date of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 now would still be premature”. The German added that to postpone the Games “is an extremely complex challenge” and that a cancellation would “destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes”. In terms of a postponement, Bach warned: “A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available any more. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.” UK Athletics, its US counterpart, and several national Olympic governing bodies have urged the IOC in recent days to delay the Games.