Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Coronavirus: Dick Pound says decision made to postpone Tokyo Games

Canadian says Olympics will most likely be held next year, with details to be finalised in next four weeks

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics have been postponed, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said late on Monday.

Pressure had been mounting on organisers to delay the event, scheduled for between July 24 and August 9, given the continuing coronavirus crisis.

Canada and Australia confirmed earlier in the day that they were withdrawing from the Games.

The committee said on Sunday that it would consider postponing, although they were reviewing several options. It insisted cancellation was not on the agenda.

But Pound told USA Today: “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided.

"The parameters have not been determined but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

A hugely influential committee member for decades, Pound suggested the Games would most likely be next year, with details to be finalised in the next four weeks.

“It will come in stages,” the Canadian said. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”

On Monday, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe placed considerable weight behind a suspension, when he drafted a letter to committee president Thomas Bach.

In it, Coe said a July Games is “neither feasible or desirable” as countries around the world battle the coronavirus.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had already conceded that a postponement would be unavoidable if a complete Games could not be held.

The IOC had earlier raised the possibility of a scaled-down event.

The Canadian Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee described the decision to pull out as “difficult”.

They called on the relevant bodies, including the World Health Organisation, to delay the Games for a year.

"No one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed," Coe said in his letter to Bach.

"But as I have said publicly, we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety, and a decision on the Olympic Games must become very obvious very quickly.

"I believe that time has come and we owe it to our athletes to give them respite where we can."

Coe, a double Olympic 1,500 metres champion, gave three main reasons for postponing the games: competition fairness; risk of injury; and the emotional well-being of athletes.

"Every one of my area presidents believes that we can no longer expect a fair and level playing field in our sport given the number of athletes who are struggling to train in various countries due to measures put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus," he wrote.

"If athletes are unable to train properly now, we both know, as we have both been there, they will push themselves even harder closer to an Olympic Games, which will increase the propensity for injury.

"The uncertainty of the Olympic Games happening in July and the inherent desire and motivation to excel that resides in all our athletes is causing real anguish that we can, collectively, put a stop to."

In the past few days, several national Olympic governing bodies have urged the committee to suspend the Games. The Olympics has never been postponed or cancelled during peacetime.

"While we recognise the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community," the Canadian committee said.

"This is not solely about athlete health. It is about public health.

"With Covid-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community, for athletes to continue training towards these Games."

It was soon joined by the Australian Olympic Committee.

"It's clear the Games can't be held in July," said the Australian team chef de mission for Tokyo, Ian Chesterman.

"Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty has been extremely challenging for them.

"They have also shouldered the burden of concern for their peers around the world.

"While there will still be much to work out as a result of this change, the timing will allow athletes from around the world to properly prepare with the hope that the coronavirus crisis will be under control."

Updated: March 23, 2020 11:10 PM

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