Olympic chiefs admitted for the first time last night that the Tokyo Games could well be postponed – but promised they would not be cancelled.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, revealed he had written to athletes confirming a decision to delay sport’s greatest show was under consideration in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games,” he said. “The IOC wants to be part of the solution.
“Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus.”
Bach said the IOC’s ‘scenario planning’ – which is supported by organisers of the Paralympics – would be completed within four weeks and insisted “cancellation is not on the agenda”.
Sir Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association, welcomed the IOC’s move but encouraged them to get a move on as “restrictions now in place have removed the ability of athletes to compete on a level playing field”.
He added: “We urge rapid decision-making for the sake of athletes who still face significant uncertainty. It simply does not seem appropriate to continue on the present course towards the Olympic Games in the current environment.”
Last night’s development followed an impassioned plea from UK Athletics boss Nic Coward, in these pages on Saturday, for the Olympics to be postponed in order to remove the "intense" mental strain the uncertainty is having on athletes.
Coward said: “Schools, like gyms and running tracks, have been closed and national governments have concluded the right thing to do is to remove the stress of exams.
“They have recognised that exams place huge pressure on people, so there won’t be any. Decision made.
“For athletes and para athletes the world over it is the same scenario, they are people for whom this summer is the biggest moment. So what we are saying is the moment has arrived.
“Right now there is a very real issue for people about how they go about their lives. People are having to make really big decisions under a lot of stress. So from our perspective, that pressure has to be released.”
It seems utterly inconceivable now that the Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead as scheduled this summer, as Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair of UK Sport, acknowledged.
“Given the circumstances, today’s news that the IOC are looking at options to postpone the Olympics was inevitable,” she said. “And the correct decision for the safety of athletes, staff and fans.”
Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, added: “The IPC and I am certain, the whole Paralympic Movement, fully support the IOC’s decision to look into the potential scenarios regarding the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games – including postponement.”
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