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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The IOC will look at postponing this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo during four weeks of talks announced Sunday amid mounting criticism of its handling of the coronavirus crisis that now includes a call for delay of the Games’ from the leader of track and field, the Summer Olympics’ biggest sport.
The International Olympic Committee is planning meetings with Japanese public authorities, global sports officials, broadcasters and sponsors that will deal with scenario planning for the Olympics, which are scheduled to start July 24. Canceling the Games is not under consideration, the IOC said.
IOC president Thomas Bach had consistently said organizers are fully committed to opening the Games on time, despite athlete training, qualifying events and Games preparations being disrupted more and more by the virus outbreak.
The change in strategy followed Bach leading a conference call with executive board members.
Hours after the announcement, World Athletics president Seb Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, sent a letter to Bach saying that holding the Olympics in July “is neither feasible nor desirable.” He outlined a number of reasons, including competitive fairness, the likelihood athletes would overtrain if given a compressed schedule and the uncertainty caused by orders in many countries barring people from gyms and other workout venues.
“No one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but … we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety,” Coe wrote. “A decision on the Olympic Games may become very obvious very quickly.”
Criticism of the stance grew in recent days from athletes and from an IOC member Tuesday before Bach finally acknowledged an alternative plan was possible.
“Of course we are considering different scenarios,” Bach told the New York Times in an interview late Thursday.
National Olympic committees in Brazil and Slovenia later called for a postponement to 2021. Norway’s Olympic body said it did not want athletes going to Tokyo until the global health crisis is under control.
The United States governing bodies of swimming and track — two of the three top-tier Summer Games sports, with gymnastics — have called on their national Olympic officials to push for a postponement.
“There is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents,” the IOC said. “This led the (board) to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning.
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“The (board) emphasized that a cancellation … would not solve any of the problems or help anybody.”
In a separate statement, Bach addressed athletes who wish to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Of the 11,000 athlete places available in 33 sports, around 4,700 have yet to be allocated.
“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the games,” Bach wrote. “The IOC wants to be part of the solution.”
Any postponement of the Games would impact the Tokyo Paralympics scheduled for Aug. 25-Sept. 6.
“As you can imagine, potentially changing the dates of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a huge logistical challenge, and the IPC will support the IOC every step of the way,” the International Paralympic Committee said.
“Currently it is vital that everyone, including athletes, stay at home to help prevent the further spread of this horrible disease which is impacting the global community.”
A worldwide group representing Olympic hopefuls is calling on the IOC to postpone the Olympics until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
“As the world unites to limit the spread of Covid-19 virus, the IOC … must do the same,” Global Athlete said in a news release.
The statement came out a few hours before the IOC made its announcement.
The lack of action is frustrating a number of athletes who have spoken up on social media and elsewhere.
“It’s bizarre the IOC hasn’t shown any real leadership,” said Caradh O’Donovan, a Global Athlete founder from Ireland whose karate training has been put on hold due to restrictions in her country. “They’re acting as though it’s business as usual, and it just seems very strange.”
O’Donovan said the unevenness around the globe regarding training, doping control and qualifying standards are among her key concerns, thoughts echoed by a number of athletes on social media and in interviews with the Associated Press over the past few days.
“Athletes want to be part of a solution to ensure the Games are a success,” the Global Athlete statement said. “But under the current global restrictions that are limiting public gatherings as well as closing training facilities and borders, athletes do not have the ability to appropriately prepare for these Games, and their health and safety must come first.”
The group also called on broadcasters, specifically NBC, and sponsors “to adopt the same level of duty of care toward athletes by supporting the IOC and (International Paralympic Committee) with flexibility and understanding during these uncharted times.”
On Saturday night, U.S. athletes took part in a conference call to share their feelings about the crisis and the possibility of a postponed Olympics. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is distributing a survey to athletes, with hopes of sharing some of the responses at an IOC meeting next week.
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