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TORONTO — The Canadian Olympic Committee said Sunday night it won’t send athletes to this summer’s Games in Tokyo unless the Olympics are postponed for a year, becoming the first country to threaten such a move in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The committee issued a statement saying it was willing to help the International Olympic Committee search for alternatives but that it was not safe for athletes, “their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training for these Games.”
“In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow.”
Canada had 314 athletes who combined to win 22 medals at the Rio Games in 2016.
Some of its most notable performers included swimmer Penny Oleksiak (one gold, one silver and two bronze) and sprinter Andre De Grasse (silver in the 200 meters, bronze in the 100).
Canada joins a number of countries — including Norway, Brazil and Slovenia — that have pressed the IOC on a possible postponement. But none had flat-out said they wouldn’t go if the Games start when they’re scheduled, July 24.
The IOC on Sunday said it would take up to four weeks to consider alternatives, which include postponement. Cancellation is not an option, it said.
Australia’s Olympic Committee executive board Monday “unanimously agreed that an Australian team could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad" and athletes should prepare for a Games next year, it said in a statement.
“It’s clear the Games can’t be held in July," Australian team chef de mission for Tokyo Ian Chesterman said in the statement.
Asked by NBC Sports if this meant Australia would not send a team if the Games are held in 2020, a spokesperson said, “The statement is what we are saying.”
The U.S. 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, which the officials have not done.
In a join statement on the IOC’s decision, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and Athletes’ Advisory Council said, “We are all appreciative that the IOC has heard our concerns and needs, and is working to address them as quickly as possible.”
Later, Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, told the Associated Press that her role is "not to make demands of those making decisions, but to bring forward solutions.”
She said she wants people to know that she’s doing her best to make sure that postponing is the correct call and, maybe more important, what the next step should be.
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