By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Calls from sporting organizations for this year’s Tokyo Olympics to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic gathered pace on Saturday with USA Track and Field (USATF), the French Swimming Federation and Brazil’s Olympic Committee the latest to join the throng.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 organizers still insist the July 24-Aug. 9 showpiece will go ahead as planned despite Europe and the U.S. struggling to control the spread of the flu-like virus.
Their optimism that the show will go on, however, is looking increasingly out of step with countries in lockdown and athletes around the world unable to train.
In a letter to United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chief executive Sarah Hirshland, USATF urged USOPC to use its voice to “speak up for athletes”.
Chief executive Max Siegel said the USTAF understood the ramifications of postponing the Games for the first time ever in peace time but moving forward was not in the best interest of athletes.
“We acknowledge that there are no perfect answers, and that this is a very complex and difficult decision, but this position (to postpone the Games) at least provides athletes with the comfort of knowing they will have adequate time to properly prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally to participate in a safe and successful Olympic Games,” he wrote.
USA Swimming wrote to USOPC on Friday calling for a delay of one year, with CEO Tim Hinchey saying: “We have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down”.
The French Swimming Federation issued a statement saying that sending its athletes to the Games was “untenable” in light of the health crisis sweeping the world.
“The Federation believe that the priority is to fight the spread of the epidemic and that the current context does not allow us to calmly envisage the smooth running of the 2020 Olympics Games,” it said, adding that it was impossible to ensure equity in competition when athletes were prevented from training because of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
A day earlier UK Athletics said the Olympics should be called off to spare athletes the stress of trying to train in the grip of a pandemic which has killed around 12,000 people since the virus surfaced in China.
Brazil’s Olympic chief Paulo Wanderley echoed those thoughts on Saturday, saying athletes would not be able to arrive in Tokyo in top form because of the impact of the crisis.
“It’s clear that right now maintaining the Games for this year will impede (the athletes’) dream from being realized,” he said.
Suggesting a year’s delay, he said the IOC was experienced in dealing with obstacles, citing the cancellations in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of World Wars and the political boycotts of the Games in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984.
Norway’s Sports Federation and Olympic and Paralympic Committee (NIF) said it had written to IOC chief Thomas Bach calling for the Games to be postponed, even if the pandemic was under control in Japan by the summer.
“Given the highly unresolved situation in Norway and in large parts of the world, it is neither justifiable or desirable to send Norwegian athletes to the Olympics or Paralympics in Tokyo until the world community has put this pandemic behind them,” sports president Berit Kjoll said.
The Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA) and the World Players Association (WPA) said a “deep review and broader consultation” with athletes was required regarding the decision over whether the Games could run as planned.
“The IOC needs to elevate its dialogue with the full range of those most affected beyond sponsors and governments to an open multi-stakeholder process that brings to the table as equals player associations as the representatives of athletes and others most at risk,” WPA executive director Brendan Schwab said in a statement.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Clare Fallon)