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Coronavirus: IOC steps up planning to change or postpone Tokyo Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is stepping up its “scenario-planning” for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Games are scheduled to run from 24 July to 9 August, but pressure is mounting for a postponement. Yesterday (Saturday, 22 March), Canada became the first nation to announce that it will not send athletes to the Olympics and Paralympics this summer.

In yesterday’s update, the IOC ruled out cancellation, which it said “would not solve any of the problems or help anybody” but said the scenarios relate to “modifying existing operational plans… and also for changes to the start date of the Games”.

The IOC expects to conclude its discussions around an altered Games or postponement within the next four weeks.

The statement said: “On the one hand, there are significant improvements in Japan where the people are warmly welcoming the Olympic flame. This could strengthen the IOC’s confidence in the Japanese hosts that the IOC could, with certain safety restrictions, organise Olympic Games in the country whilst respecting its principle of safeguarding the health of everyone involved.

“On the other hand, there is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents. This led the executive board to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning.”

Among the challenges for postponing the Games are that a number of venues might not be available at a later date, millions of nights are booked in hotels and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted.

IOC president Thomas Bach has also written to the global athlete community, acknowledging that many athletes’ training is being interrupted, but saying that a final decision today about the date of the Games would be premature.

He said: “I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope of so many athletes, national Olympic committees and international federations from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.

“As a fellow Olympian, I hope that you can understand our challenge, and accept and support our principles which are to safeguard your, your families’ and everyone’s health, and to keep your Olympic dream alive.”

Meanwhile the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee are calling on the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organisation to postpone the Games until 2021.

“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” said the statement.

“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. In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow.”

Other bodies calling for a postponement include World Athletics, UK Athletics, USA Track and Field, USA Swimming and the competitors’ group Global Athlete.

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On Friday, FEI president Ingmar de Vos wrote an open letter to the equestrian community, in which he stated: “I fully appreciate that the uncertainty about the Olympic and Paralympic Games is frustrating, but the FEI is proactively looking at all the measures that will need to be taken in order to guarantee you are given fair and equal opportunities to reach your goals, whilst ensuring that your health and wellbeing always comes first.

“We are fortunate that we have completed our Olympic and Paralympic qualifiers, which is sadly not the case for many other sports, but we must continue our preparations and be flexible where we need to be, such as rescheduling cancelled events and potentially extending the timeline around the Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER), without modifying the requirements themselves.”

The letter also mentioned the impact of the calendar disruption on rankings across equestrian disciplines, saying the FEI is “monitoring every aspect of the sport and we are taking action wherever needed in order to provide support to our National Federations, our organisers, our athletes, our officials and the entire equestrian industry.”

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