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U.S. track joins swimming in asking for Olympic postponement because of coronavirus

Pressuring is growing on U.S. leaders to exert their influence with the IOC as track’s international leader says a decision about the Games “may become very obvious very quickly.”
A worker on duty at a road construction site walks past a banner promoting the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Friday, March 20, 2020. The Olympic flame from Greece arrived in Japan even as the opening of the the Tokyo Games in four months is in doubt with more voices suggesting the Games should to be postponed or canceled because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A worker on duty at a road construction site walks past a banner promoting the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Friday, March 20, 2020. The Olympic flame from Greece arrived in Japan even as the opening of the the Tokyo Games in four months is in doubt with more voices suggesting the Games should to be postponed or canceled because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia) [ GREGORIO BORGIA | AP ]
Published Mar. 21, 2020
Updated Mar. 22, 2020

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U.S. Olympic leaders are facing a growing rebellion inside their ranks about holding this summer’s Games in Tokyo as scheduled.

A board member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee countered leadership by criticizing the IOC, and the USA Track and Field chief added to the call for a postponement because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the leader of track’s international federation, two-time gold medalist Seb Coe, said Saturday there’s no need to hold the Olympics at any cost and a decision about their future “may become very obvious very quickly in the coming days and weeks.”

U.S. track and field CEO Max Siegel sent a two-page note to his USOPC counterpart, Sarah Hirshland, asking the federation to advocate for a delay of the Games, scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9. It came late Friday, a few hours after USA Swimming’s CEO sent a similar letter.

Now, the sports that accounted for 65 of America’s 121 medals and 175 of its 554 athletes at the last Summer Games, in 2016, are on record in urging, in Siegel’s words, “the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.”

Also focused on leadership was Steve Mesler, a USOPC board member and Olympic champion bobsledder. In a blog post Friday, Mesler leveled much more criticism toward the International Olympic Committee than have Hirshland and USOPC board chairwoman Susanne Lyons in statements and interviews.

“The (IOC) has not shown the leadership we Olympians desire out of those who are in charge,” Mesler wrote, while careful to emphasize that these were his thoughts “as an Olympian and not those of the USOPC, its Board of Directors, or its leaders.”

Other national committees are also calling on the IOC to act. The federations in Norway and Brazil went public with requests to postpone. “Our clear recommendation is that the Olympic Games in Tokyo shall not take place before the COVID-19 situation is under firm control on a global scale,” Norway’s federation wrote to IOC president Thomas Bach.

Coe, president of World Athletics, said the Olympic world is managing the coronavirus day by day and “increasingly hour by hour.” He said more meetings are set for this week to determine next steps.

It’s the United States, though, that brings the largest contingent to every Summer Games and wins the most medals, both factors that have led NBC to pay billions to televise the Games through 2032. It would seem to give the USOPC leverage in talks about almost any subject with the IOC, but the federation has been reluctant to use its power. It spent years trying to smooth over tense relations with its international partners.

And since Hirshland took over as CEO in 2018, the focus has been inward, as the sex-abuse scandals that have consumed American sports have shifted the focus to athlete welfare and safety.

Hirshland and Lyons have insisted the USOPC won’t sacrifice athlete safety in the current crisis. But they have stopped well short of pushing the IOC to postpone.

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