By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) – Nine-times Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis on Sunday called for the 2020 athletics season to be scrapped and July’s Tokyo Games to be postponed until 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands.
“Let’s wipe the season clean, focus on the (2021) worlds and get it together,” America’s most decorated track and field athlete told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“It’s going to hurt a lot, but wipe it clean.”
With the uncertainty now of whether there will be a Games in 2020 and the tightening of people’s movement by governments to try to control the virus, “we are in the twilight zone,” Lewis said.
“I don’t think the Olympics are going to happen, but, we have to prepare as we are going.”
While many say the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed for a year and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Sunday it was studying that possibility, Lewis said the reasonable thing to do would be delay the Games until 2022.
“We could move it two years and have both (the Summer and Winter) Olympics the same year, like it used to be,” he said.
“That would give us (athletics) a championship meet every year for the next four years. We would have two world championships (in 2021 and 2023) between an Olympics (in 2022),” with the Paris Olympics in 2024, he added.
It would also not conflict with the 2022 soccer World Cup which is scheduled for November and December in Qatar.
Cancelling the Olympics is not an option, the former sprinter and long jumper said.
“It is just too big an event for everyone not to have it,” Lewis said. “Athletes deserve to have it.
“It’s no one’s fault but everyone’s problem.”
But he insisted that decisions need to be made by the IOC and sports governing bodies.
“It (no decision) keeps everyone in limbo. We can’t get on with our lives until we know what is going on,” said Lewis, an assistant track and field coach at the University of Houston who also coaches professional athletes.
Regardless of what happens, the pandemic will have a major impact on athletics and other sports, Lewis said.
“We could be two or three years in getting our economy back,” he added.
“So half the meets may not have sponsors because their companies are struggling. So it is not going to be as busy as usual. It may take three years to get 80% of the meets back and some may go away and never come back.”
While no 2020 season will no doubt hurt athletes financially who do not have major sponsorship deals and may even force some to leave the sport, Lewis said he would not favour the IOC, national Olympic committees and sports federations giving athletes stipends.
“There are millions and millions of people getting laid off and struggling, and Olympic committees giving financial support to athletes who can’t afford to manage… If you are struggling this year and supposed to be a professional athlete, you are not really a professional athlete,” he said.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Christian Radnedge)