By Gene Cherry

(Reuters) – USA Track and Field (USATF), the governing body of American athletics, on Saturday called for a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

The federation, in a letter to United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chief executive Sarah Hirshland, asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Games, which are scheduled to run from July 24 to Aug. 9.

“We certainly understand the ramifications of this request, and the realities of trying to coordinate the logistics of a postponed Olympic Games around the schedules of other athletes, sport federations, key stakeholders etc, but the alternative of moving forward in light of the current global situation would not be in the best interest of our athletes (as difficult as that decision might be),” USATF chief executive Max Siegel said in the letter.

The U.S. track and field federation joined another leading U.S. Olympic sport body, USA Swimming, in seeking a delay to the Games.

Neither U.S. Olympic officials nor the IOC were available for comment on USATF’s request.

VIRTUAL TOWN HALL

Athlete representatives of the U.S. Olympic and Paralymic Committee (USOPC) hosted a virtual town hall on Saturday night of nearly 300 prospective Olympians.

Athletes were invited to share their thoughts on how the coronavirus was affecting their training and whether they thought the Olympics should proceed as scheduled, or be postponed or canceled.

In a poll at the end of the two-hour discussion, 25% wanted the Games to go on as scheduled, 41% voted no and another 34% needed more information.

The online meeting follows the U.S. committee’s call on Friday for athletes to continue their preparations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But many athletes from various sports said that was impossible given the public lockdown in parts of the country, and expressed frustration at being told to carry on training given the logistical difficulties.

Meanwhile, the IOC has pressed on during the health crisis, saying the Games will go ahead as scheduled.

The issue has sharply divided athletes globally and USATF said no decision should be made at the expense of the safety and well-being of our 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 our athletes with the comfort of knowing that they will have adequate time to properly prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to participate in a safe and successful Olympic Games,” it said.

“We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.”

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Alexander Smith and Ed Osmond)

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