While the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are currently set to begin July 24, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board will plan for alternate scenarios in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, including a possible postponement of the Games, and will announce its findings within the next four weeks.
One option the IOC is not considering, it reiterated in its statement Sunday, is a full cancelation of the Games.
“It is in light of the worldwide deteriorating situation, and in the spirit of our shared commitment to the Olympic Games, that the IOC Executive Board has today initiated the next step in our scenarios,” IOC President Thomas Bach wrote in a letter to athletes Sunday.
“This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan,” the IOC added in an announcement of the decision.
The International Paralympic Committee, which is organizing the subsequent Paralympic Games, also in Tokyo, expressed support for the IOC’s plan in a separate statement. Both organizations stressed the health and safety of athletes as their top priority.
As the world grapples with slowing the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, several sports leagues and competitions around the world have already been postponed or canceled, and calls for the IOC to modify plans for the coming Olympic and Paralympic Games have grown louder.
The IOC, citing the start date of the Olympic Games still being more than four months away, and the Paralympic Games a month after that, had resisted making such a decision. The organization also cited a host of complexities relating to such a decision given the number of stakeholders involved in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“Contrary to other sports events, to postpone the Olympic Games is an extremely complex challenge,” Bach wrote to athletes. “Just to give you some examples:
“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore. The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges."
As people are being advised to stay home and avoid large groups, and training facilities such as the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers in Colorado and New York have shut down, athletes have expressed growing concern about training and safety during the pandemic. In recent days, the U.S. National Governing Bodies for swimming and track and field urged the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee to push for a postponement. National Olympic Committees from Brazil and Norway have voiced the same to the IOC.
While the USOPC maintained its stance Friday that it was “premature” to change the dates, it vowed to relay concerns to the IOC.
“The USOPC will be leaders in providing accurate advice and honest feedback, and be unfailing advocates of the athletes and their safety, and the necessity of a fair platform for the Games,” a USOPC statement from CEO Sarah Hirshland and Chair Susanne Lyons read. “You have our promise.”
Bach again said Sunday in his athlete letter, “Our basis of information today is that a final decision about the date of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 now would still be premature.”