Olympic leaders vow to increase talks about postponing the Tokyo Games

Faced with increasing criticism of their hesitant response to the coronavirus outbreak, Olympic leaders have vowed to step up discussions on the Tokyo Games in 2020 and expect to make a decision on postponement and other possible changes within four weeks.

While the International Olympic Committee says cancellation is not on the table, the announcement on Sunday reflects a sustained shift in tone for an organization that previously insisted that the Games begin as planned on July 24.

“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the performance of the Games,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in an open letter to athletes. “The IOC wants to be part of the solution.”

In addition to considering deferral, officials said they will investigate “modifying existing operational plans” but have not provided details.

In recent days, the National Olympic Committees of Brazil, Norway and Slovenia have called for a postponement. USA Swimming and USA Track & Field repeated that request.

“We recognize that there are no perfect answers, and that this is a very complex and difficult decision,” said Max Siegel, general manager of the US job governing body.

At the end of last month, an influential IOC member had insisted that no decision should be taken until the end of May. That position was weakened by the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 331,000 cases and 14,450 deaths worldwide.

The dramatic rise forced the IOC board of directors to announce “the next step in scenario planning”. Although the Tokyo committee and organizers are insured against unforeseen events, officials reiterated that it would not be easy to postpone the Games.

International federations representing more than 30 summer sports have signed deals with host cities and venues for their world championships in 2021. The IOC said millions of hotel rooms have been booked in Tokyo this summer and some of the city’s stadiums and arenas may not be available on a later date.

Procrastination would also require the participation of television broadcasters and sponsors of companies that invest billions of dollars in the Olympic movement.

“Together with all stakeholders, we started detailed discussions today to finalize our assessment,” Bach wrote, adding that “we are confident that we will have completed these discussions in the next four weeks.”

The IOC president acknowledged the difficulties athletes face in preparing for Tokyo. Some live in countries where the virus has closed gyms, tracks and pools; others have no such restrictions.

To move forward, Olympic leaders and organizers of Tokyo held smaller ceremonies last week to light the Olympic torch and transport it to Japan for the start of the traditional relay race.

Now they will consult the Japanese government and international health experts to make a critical decision. Since the late 19th century, the modern Games have been pushed aside only for the First and Second World Wars.

The International Track Federation said in a statement that it will “be ready to work with the IOC and all sports on an alternative date.” Although the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee no longer asked for a postponement, it likewise expressed support for further discussions.

“We know the difficult obstacles ahead and we all appreciate that the IOC has heard our concerns and needs and is working to address them as soon as possible,” said USOPC director Sarah Hirshland and athlete representative Han Xiao in a joint statement . “Together we will find solutions that keep the spirit of the Games alive.”

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