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
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.
With billions of dollars and political prestige at stake,
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, IOC President Thomas Bach,
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and Tokyo 2020 head Yoshiro Mori
were to talk by phone on Tuesday, officials and media said.
Organizers were focusing on a potential one-year delay, two
Japanese newspapers reported, with an official briefing on the
call due at around 9:15 p.m. (1215 GMT).
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.
"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."
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.
"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 said.
JUMPER WITHOUT A SANDPIT
The association's American founder, twice Olympic triple jump
champion Christian Taylor, is among athletes unable to train due
to social distancing and closure of facilities.
"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 considerations.
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.
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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