This year’s Tokyo Olympics looked likely to be the first to be postponed since the modern Games began in the 19th century, as Canada’s national team pulled out and Japan’s prime minister said that a delay might be unavoidable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday told parliament that the Olympics, set to start in July, would have to be postponed if safety cannot be guaranteed for spectators and athletes.
His comments came a day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that it would decide within four weeks how to handle the event amid the outbreak, with a delay being an option.
After weeks of avoiding direct mention of scuttling the schedule, Abe changed his tone and said if the full Games could not be held in an environment where everyone feels safe, “a decision will have to be made to postpone it.”
He added that cancelation was not an option and that he wanted an IOC decision to be made as soon as possible.
The Tokyo Olympic Committee echoed the tone, with committee president Yoshiro Mori saying organizers would discuss different scenarios for the Games within four weeks, ruling out a cancelation.
The aim is to hold the event this year, even with a delay, he said.
Abe added that he might have to communicate his own thoughts directly to IOC president Thomas Bach, saying the world was not ready to hold an Olympics.
If the Olympics are called off, it would be the biggest event to be halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The last time an Olympics was canceled was in 1944 due to World War II, and the Games have never been delayed by as long as a year under the auspices of the IOC, which was established in 1894.
The 1940 Games were initially postponed, but then canceled.
Several nations are calling for the Olympics to be pushed back until at least next year.
That would cause logistical nightmares, but would be far less painful than cancelation for the host, sponsors, broadcasters and others that have tens of billions of dollars invested in the event.
Earlier, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee “urgently” called on the IOC and other organizers to postpone the event by a year.
“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes,” they said. “We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport.”
Other major sporting federations and political leaders have also called on the IOC and Japanese organizers to postpone the Games, with the pandemic already wrecking training for athletes.
The Australian Olympic Committee yesterday said that its athletes should prepare for the event to be held next year, while World Athletics said that it was “ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date.”
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