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Will the Olympic Games take place this summer? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) finally opened the door on Sunday to a postponement that the sporting world increasingly wants because of the coronavirus, but gave itself four weeks to decide.
However, any outright cancellation of the Tokyo Games “is not on the agenda” because it would “destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes from the 210 National Olympic Committees, the refugee team and Paralympic athletes,” assured the president of the body, Thomas Bach.
“We have begun discussions with all partners to take stock of the rapidly developing health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including a scenario for postponing the Olympics,” wrote Thomas Bach in a letter to sportsmen and women, which was made public on Sunday evening.
“We will have finalised these discussions within the next four weeks,” he said.
“Does that mean that athletes are faced with FOUR more weeks of finding ways to train – while potentially putting themselves, coaches, staff and our loved ones at risk, only to find out that it’s going to be postponed anyway,” world 200-metre champion Dina Asher-Smith of Britain asked on Twitter.
“World Athletics welcomes discussions with the IOC to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” the international athletics federation said in a statement.
This announcement “which formalises the work carried out on a potential postponement was necessary”, also considered the French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu. She urged the IOC to decide “as soon as possible to allay the fears” of the sports movement, but stressed that “the urgency lies elsewhere, in hospitals and public services.
The different scenarios envisaged by the IOC consist “of modifying the existing plans for the Olympic Games, which are due to start on 24 July, and also of changing the dates of the start of the Games,” the body explained. The idea is to postpone them by a few months, a year (2021) or even more. The option of maintaining the original dates (24 July – 9 August) seems increasingly unlikely.
The requests for postponement, which have so far been coming in scattered order, should in the next few days give substance to national grievances close to a plebiscite for postponement.
The National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are in fact consulting internally and preparing their answers to the questionnaire proposed by the IOC on the impact of the health crisis in the preparation for the Games.
But for some, with almost all sports competitions around the world on hold, there is no longer any time to procrastinate on the holding of the world’s biggest sporting event.
“Everyone in the sporting world agrees that the Games will not be able to be held on the planned dates,” stressed the President of the French Athletics Federation André Giraud. He was referring to the powerful American swimming and athletics federations, as well as the Spanish athletics federation, which had called for the postponement of the Games the day before.
“Athletes are in a stressful situation and we need to reassure them. We can’t wait any longer,” he hammered.
– Carl Lewis proposes 2022 –
French Health Minister Olivier Véran has already indicated that he is reluctant to send athletes to Japan this summer.
“Is it my duty as Health Minister to ask for the suspension of the Olympic Games? No. Do I see myself sending athletes to Japan today or asking them to prepare themselves in good conditions? The answer is no,” he said.
In Germany, the NOC has spoken directly to its athletes. “It is a question of clarifying which of you might want to participate in the Olympic Games on the dates planned and who is in favour of another date,” explained DOSB President Alfons Hörmann.
The former sprint king Carl Lewis has proposed rescheduling the Tokyo Games by… 2022 because it would be “more comfortable” for the athletes who would have “time to prepare”.
With the Winter Games in Beijing, “it would be a kind of festive Olympic year,” he imagined.
But if the opinion of the 58-year-old American is only as good as the weight of his Olympic medals (10, including nine gold), a poll conducted among his compatriots who will take part in the next Olympics and published on Sunday goes very much in the same direction.
Thus, out of 300 athletes questioned by their NOC (the USOPC), 70% were in favour of postponing the Games.
“I think the IOC is really, really selfish in trying to keep them going,” said shot putter Gwen Berry.
Quoting an athlete representative on the US NOC, the daily newspaper USA Today reported that after an audio conference debate with around 300 US Olympic athletes, 70% of them voted for a postponement, compared to 23% who wanted to wait and see how the epidemic develops.