Dissent grows as IOC battles to
keep Tokyo Games on track
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[March 18, 2020]
By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS (Reuters) - The International
Olympic Committee is facing its strongest headwinds in decades as it
briefed national committees on Wednesday on the state of the Tokyo
2020 Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic, with voices of dissent
The IOC has remained committed to staging the Tokyo Games as planned
from July 24-Aug. 9, saying on Tuesday after a meeting with
international sports federations that measures against the virus
were delivering results.
The coronavirus has so far killed more than 7,500 people and
infected about 200,000, with the epicenter now in Europe.
The Olympic body has refused to publicly consider cancellation or
postponement as possible options, even as other major events
including soccer's Euro 2020 and Copa America and the French Open
tennis grand slam announced postponements on Tuesday.
The virus has also wreaked havoc with Olympic qualification
tournaments with athletes struggling to train, travel or compete and
many pre-Games qualifiers canceled or postponed.
Tokyo is set to host some 11,000 athletes and 53% have already
earned their spot at the Games. The remaining 43% will clinch their
place through modified qualifiers, or previous performances based on
Under the current exceptional circumstances, the IOC said, solutions
needed to be found that were appropriate, though they might not be
ideal for all athletes.
"This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional
solutions," the IOC told Reuters in a statement on Wednesday.
"The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least negative
impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the
competition and the athletesí health.
"No solution will be ideal in this situation, and this is why we are
counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes."
The IOC got the backing from Panam Sports, the organization
representing 41 national Olympic Committees in the Americas.
"The Panam Sports family unanimously supports the IOC with all the
measures taken... to address the issues facing the NOCs and athletes
in the current qualification opportunities," Panam Sports President
Neven Ilic said after the briefing via conference call on Wednesday.
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A man wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks in front of flags of the Tokyo
2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan March 17, 2020.
"The athletes of the Americas are facing issues to complete their
usual training schedules and take part in competitions."
IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser called the decision to proceed with
the Games "insensitive and irresponsible" in the most vocal attack
on the Olympic body since President Thomas Bach took over in 2013.
Wickenheiser, who competed in five Winter Games in ice hockey and at
the 2000 Summer Olympics in softball, said continuing with the Games
as planned ignored the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
"This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics," Wickenheiser said in
a statement on Twitter. "Athletes can't train. Attendees can't
travel plan. Sponsors and marketers can't market with a degree of
"I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such
conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of
She is not alone.
Several athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion
Katerina Stefanidi, said the IOC decision was putting athletes'
health at risk, urging them to train as normal when entire countries
have shut down to contain the virus spread.
"There is no postponement, no cancellation. But it (the IOC) is
putting us at risk," Stefanidi said in an interview with Reuters.
"We all want Tokyo to happen but what is the Plan B if it does not
"Knowing about a possible option has a major effect on my training
because I may be taking risks now that I would not take if I knew
there was also the possibility of a Plan B."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and Christian Radnedge)
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