Canada, Australia withdraw from Tokyo 2020 as organizers ponder
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[March 23, 2020]
By Steve Keating and Leika Kihara
TORONTO/TOKYO (Reuters) - Canada and
Australia said they would not be sending athletes to the Tokyo Olympics
if the Games went ahead as scheduled this year as pressure on organizers
to postpone because of the coronavirus pandemic reached fever pitch on
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government had on
Sunday and Monday slightly shifted their position that the Games would
start as planned on July 24, announcing a month-long consultation over
That was not sufficient for the Canadians or Australians, who said they
would not be participating if the Games were not pushed back to 2021.
Canada's Olympic Committee (COC) and Paralympic Committee (CPC) released
a statement saying that while they recognized the complexities of a
postponement, "nothing is more important than the health and safety of
our athletes and the world community".
Martin Richard, communications chief for the CPC, said the Canadians had
been hoping for a decision on Sunday and decided to withdraw when none
"The world is facing a crisis and this is more important than any other
sport event," he told Reuters from Ottawa.
Richard said for Paralympic athletes, some of whom had underlying
conditions, it would be risky to expose them if the virus was not
"We felt it was unethical to have them be put in that position," he
said, adding that Canada had had not been alone in applying pressure on
the IOC to postpone.
More than 14,600 people have died globally since the coronavirus
outbreak began and containment measures have severely hampered the
ability of some athletes to prepare for the Games.
While many Canadian athletes and officials welcomed the COC's move, some
were not happy.
"I believe in the safety of our lives but this is premature," Sage
Watson, the reigning Pan American champion in the 400 meters hurdles,
Soon after the Canadian statement, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC)
said it had told its athletes to prepare for a Tokyo Games taking place
"The AOC (Executive Board) unanimously agreed that an Australian team
could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and
abroad," read the statement.
"The AOC believes our athletes now need to prioritize their own health
and of those around them, and to be able to return to the families, in
discussion with their national federations."
The announcements followed a weekend in which major stakeholders such as
U.S. Track and Field and UK Athletics, along with some national Olympic
committees, had called for a delay because of the pandemic.
The IOC responded on Sunday with a statement that promised discussions
in the next four weeks over scenarios that would include an option of
putting back the July start date, or even moving the Games back by a
year or more.
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Canada's national flag waves in the air. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe followed suit early on Monday by
telling parliament that postponement may be considered if holding
the Games in its "complete form" became impossible.
"If that becomes difficult, we may have no option but to consider
postponing the Games, given the Olympic principle of putting the
health of athletes first," he said.
Abe also said calling off the Games entirely was not an option,
echoing the IOC position in its statement that cancellation "was not
on the agenda".
Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori later echoed the same
sentiments and admitted he was becoming frustrated by some of the
criticism of organizers.
"I'm not so foolish as to assume that athletes and everyone else
involved in the Olympics would come to Tokyo amid the global
coronavirus crisis, even if we were to push forward with holding it
as planned," he told reporters on Monday.
The Olympic torch relay – due to start on Thursday – would go ahead
as planned for now, even though that schedule was also open to
change, organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said at the same news
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), who said they
would not be commenting on Canada's decision on Sunday, had earlier
welcomed the IOC's new position but said more clarity was needed to
remove "enormous ambiguity" for athletes.
The Olympics have never been postponed or canceled during peacetime
but the IOC's decision to consider postponement was met with relief
from several other major stakeholders, including World Athletics,
the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and major national
Canada's boycott will only add to the pressure for a quick decision,
"We welcome the IOC Executive Board decision to review the options
in respect of a postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,"
British Olympic Association chairman Hugh Robertson said on Sunday.
"However, we urge rapid decision-making for the sake of athletes who
still face significant uncertainty."
The last major boycott of the Olympics was when the Soviet bloc
stayed away from the 1984 Los Angeles Games, although North Korea
and Cuba skipped the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo, Steve
Keating in Toronto. Additional reporting by Amran Abocar, Ian Ransom
in Melbourne, Andrew Both in North Carolina; Writing by Nick
Mulvenney and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Lincoln
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