By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS (Reuters) – Canada’s decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympic Games if they were to be held in 2020 was a unilateral decision based on the health and safety of athletes and with no consultation with the International Olympic Committee, the COC said on Friday.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee had said on Sunday they would not be sending athletes to Tokyo in July if the IOC decided to go ahead with the plans to stage Games this year amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“While we are, and have been, in constant communication with the IOC, our decision last Sunday evening to not send athletes to Tokyo this summer because of COVID-19 concerns was taken solely by the Canadian Olympic Committee without the participation of the IOC,” COC spokesperson Photi Sotiropoulos told Reuters in a telephone call.
“The decision was taken in consultation with our athletes’ commission, our Chief Medical Officer and the Canadian sport community.”
“We met with our athletes’ commission… twice before making our decision with the full support of over 100 members of our sport community and the Canadian Olympic Board,” Sotiropoulos added.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backed the COC decision, urging other countries to do the same. Canada is among the bigger national Olympic committees and the country is one of only a handful to have hosted both summer and winter Olympics.
Australia, another Olympic powerhouse, followed suit hours later, piling more pressure on Games organisers and the IOC to postpone the Olympics.
This also prompted some suggestions that the IOC may have planned this in a way to create leverage through the double withdrawal threat, allowing the Olympic body to finally postpone the Games.
“That did not happen. This decision was not part of a plan by the IOC to create leverage for a postponement of Games,” Sotiropoulos said.
“We made this difficult decision independently of the IOC. We were surprised and pleased when Australia took a very similar position within hours of our own.”
The IOC on Tuesday finally postponed the Olympics by a year after also coming under intense pressure from thousands of athletes, whose preparations had been disrupted by the spread of the virus.
The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were canceled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars, and major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984, respectively.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Christian Radnedge)