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IOC boss Thomas Bach pressing on with Tokyo Olympics

Which is the world's sportiest nation? (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
21st March, 2020
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The peak US athletics body and Brazil’s Olympic Committee have joined growing calls to postpone the Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has defended pressing on with plans to stage the Tokyo Olympics despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers still insist the July 24-August 9 showpiece will go ahead as planned despite Europe and the US struggling to control the spread of the virus.

“A cancellation would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes from 206 national Olympic committees and the IOC refugee team. Such a cancellation would be the least fair solution,” Bach told German SWR radio on Saturday.

He said because of their complexity “you can’t postpone the Olympic Games like a football match next Saturday,” and insisted that any decision required reliable and clear information.

His 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 and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chief executive Sarah Hirshland on Saturday, USATF urged USOPC to use its voice to “speak up for athletes”.

Chief executive Max Siegel said the USTAF “understood” the ramification of postponing the Games for the first time ever in peace time, but that moving forward would not be 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 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,” he wrote.

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USA Swimming wrote to USOPC on Friday calling for a delay of one year, CEO Tim Hinchey saying: “we have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down”.

The chairman of UK Athletics said last week 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 realised,” 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 said it had written to IOC chief Thomas Bach calling for the Games to be postponed, even if the pandemic is 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.