To athletes' relief, Tokyo 2020 postponement decision due any day
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[March 24, 2020]
By Karolos Grohmann and Leika Kihara
ATHENS/TOKYO (Reuters) - A decision on
whether to postpone this year's Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus
crisis will come in days, sources said on Tuesday, as a global clamor
made a delay look inevitable.
To the consternation of athletes, the July 24-Aug. 9 Olympics have been
the last big sporting event left standing in coming months as most of
the world goes into virtual lockdown.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan's repeated
insistence that the event would go ahead as scheduled - and then their
weekend announcement of a lengthy, one-month consultation over possible
postponement - angered many.
It would the first such postponment in the Games' history.
With billions of dollars and political prestige riding on the event,
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC President Thomas Bach were to
talk by phone on Tuesday morning.
The governor of Tokyo will join the call, a Tokyo government official
told Reuters. Public broadcaster NHK said Tokyo 2020 head Yoshiro Mori
would also take part as speculation deepened that Japan was set to
announce a delay to the Olympics.
Japan's Sankei newspaper said the government was negotiating with the
Olympic body to postpone the Games for up to a year, echoing comments by
former IOC board member Dick Pound.
Sources within the Olympic movement told Reuters a decision would come
in days, possibly before the planned launch of a scaled-down torch relay
on Thursday. [nL8N2BH235]
"Heartbroken but not surprised," said twice Olympic champion swimmer
Cate Campbell, whose nation Australia withdrew from the summer Games
even before a formal postponement announcement.
"To be honest, I'm left reeling and feeling a little lost. But the goal
posts haven't disappeared - just shifted. It's time to recalibrate and
fire up for the next challenge."
The Olympics have never been delayed in their 124-year modern history,
though they were canceled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the
two world wars. Major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los
Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984.
BACH IN HOT SEAT
Pressure on the IOC and its powerful president Bach had been
accelerating fast in recent days, with Canada, like Australia, saying it
would not participate if the Games went ahead.
Other nations have pressed hard for a postponement and a quick decision
by the Olympic body to end uncertainty.
"We would have wished that we already had by now a clear statement that
the Games would definitely not take place at the planned date and that
now alternatives were being considered," said German Olympic Sports
Confederation head Alfons Hoermann.
Athletes, though sad, were mainly in agreement with a delay, given
health risks and disruption to their training as gyms, stadia and
swimming pools shut down around the world.
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The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
"I compete in a little bike race, which is nothing compared to what
is going on in the world right now," American Olympic BMX champion
Connor Fields said. "No sport is more important if it means more
people might potentially die from this."
The coronavirus outbreak has raged around the world, infecting
nearly 380,000 people, killing more than 16,500 and wrecking sports
events from the soccer Euros to Formula One.
The Athletics Association said a survey of more than 4,000 track and
field competitors showed 78% wanted the Games delayed.
"Asking athletes to risk their physical and mental health preparing
for an Olympic Games in the middle of a pandemic that is crippling
the world is unfair, immoral and shows a huge lack of empathy," it
JUMPER WITHOUT A SANDPIT
The association's American founder, twice Olympic triple jump
champion Christian Taylor, is among athletes unable to train due to
protocols on social distancing and facilities being closed.
"There is no sandpit for me, I have not put on jump spikes for two
weeks," he told Britain's Times newspaper.
The United States, by far the most successful nation in the history
of the modern summer Games, added its weight to calls for a delay.
The rights deal with American broadcaster NBC to televise the
Olympics represents 50%-70% of IOC annual revenues.
Japan and the IOC have said calling off the Games entirely is not an
option, but a delay would present major logistical difficulties
given the crowded global sporting calendar and complex commercial
World Athletics has said it would be willing to move the 2021 world
championships, scheduled for Aug. 6-15 in Eugene, Oregon, to clear a
path for a 2021 Olympics. [nL8N2BG9EZ]
Postponement would be a massive blow for hosts Japan, which has
pumped in more than $12 billion of investment, while huge sums are
also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.
But a poll showed about 70% of the Japanese think a delay is
(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Nick
Mulvenney and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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