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Coronavirus & Olympics: IOC to decide on fate of Tokyo Games

After a week of criticism about not postponing the Summer Olympics, the International Olympic Committee announced Sunday it plans to decide within a month whether to hold the 2020 Tokyo Games.

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The statement also said the IOC’s executive board would not consider canceling the Summer Olympics that are scheduled July 24-Aug. 9.

“Cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody,” the statement said. “Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda.”

But the IOC leaders plan to work with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to assess the best course of action in the wake of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

“The IOC is confident that it will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks, and greatly appreciates the solidarity and partnership of the (national Olympic committees) and (international federations) in supporting the athletes and adapting Games planning.”

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its Athletes Advisory Council issued a joint statement Sunday praising the IOC’s step but said it does not go far enough.

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“Our athlete community continues to face enormous ambiguity surrounding the 2020 Games in Tokyo,” said USOPC chief Sarah Hirshland and AAC chair Han Xiao. “Every day counts. We remain steadfast in our recommendation that Team USA athletes continue to heed the advice of public health officials and prioritize their health and wellness over all else.

“At the same time we are eager to continue to explore alternatives to ensure all athletes have a robust and fulfilling Olympic and Paralympic experience, regardless of when that can safely occur.”

The IOC statement follows public calls in the past two days for postponement by USA Swimming and USA Track & Field, as well as Brazil and Norway’s national Olympic committees.

The Sport & Rights Alliance and World Players, groups that represent 100 player associations in more than 60 countries, and Global Athlete, which says it represents hundreds of fellow athletes, also called on the IOC to postpone the Games.

“As the world unites to limit the spread of Covid-19 virus the IOC and IPC must do the same,” Global Athlete said in a statement Sunday.

After spending the past week saying it was too early to decide to delay the Summer Olympics, IOC president Thomas Bach backpedaled Sunday. He sent a public letter to athletes, saying, “Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games. The IOC wants to be part of the solution. Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus.

“I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, NOCs and IFs from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Many also want to move the Tokyo Paralympics, Aug. 25-Sept. 6.

“The road to Tokyo is very different for each of you, coming from 206” national Olympic committees, Bach wrote. “Many of you cannot prepare and train in the way you are used to, or even not at all because of the anti-COVID-19 measures in your country. Many of you are in training and are looking forward to making your Olympic dream come true. Many of you are already qualified for the Games; a significant number are not.

“What we all share, however, is tremendous uncertainty. This uncertainty rocks our nerves and raises or strengthens doubts about a positive future; it destroys hope. Some even have to fear for their very existence. This uncertainty stems from the fact that, at this moment, nobody can really make fully reliable statements about the duration of this fight against the virus. This is true for sport, science, the media, politics, and all of society. Therefore also the IOC can unfortunately not answer all your questions.”

The Summer Olympics are expected to host 11,000 athletes in 33 sports.

Bach outlined the complexity of changing the dates:

“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore,” he wrote. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”

Bach said that as of Sunday it would be premature to announce a decision on when to hold the Games.

“So, like you, we are in a dilemma,” he said.

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