SALT LAKE CITY — A postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games seems almost certain after announcements that Canada and Australia won’t participate, pleas from U.S. Swimming, and an assessment by a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee.
IOC committee member Dick Pound, a longtime and influential member of the IOC, told USA Today Monday afternoon that the 2020 Tokyo Games will likely be postponed, but that details are still being worked out.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound told USA Today in a phone interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
Pound said details about the rescheduling of Olympic events would “come in stages.”
The Summer Olympics include more than 207 nations and about 12,000 athletes competing in more than 300 events and nearly 30 sports. It is a multibillion-dollar event that will cause massive economic reverberations around the world with any kind of cancellation or rescheduling.
Over the weekend, Canada and Australia announced they would not send teams to compete in the 2020 Games and called for their postponement as the world deals with an unprecedented medical crisis in the new coronavirus.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee issued a statement from CEO Sarah Hirshland and USOPC Chairman Han Xiao on Sunday after both Canada and Australia announced their withdrawal from the Games.
“The progress reflected in today’s IOC update to the global athlete community is an important step in providing clarity, but our athlete community continues to face enormous ambiguity surrounding the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Having spent countless hours communicating with IOC leadership, our peers around the world, our NGBs and the athletes we serve, we know the difficult obstacles ahead and we are all appreciative that the IOC has heard our concerns and needs, and is working to address them as quickly as possible,” the statement said.
“Every day counts,” it continued. “We remain steadfast in our recommendation that Team USA athletes continue to heed the advice of public health officials and prioritize their health and wellness over all else. At the same time we are eager to continue to explore alternatives to ensure all athletes have a robust and fulfilling Olympic and Paralympic experience, regardless of when that can safely occur. Together we will find solutions that keep the spirit of the Games alive.”
On March 20, the head of USA Swimming, CEO Tim Hinchey, called for the Games to be postponed one year. In a letter to U.S. Olympic officials, he cited stress, pressure and anxiety, as well as the health of athletes as reasons to postpone one of the world’s largest sporting and cultural events.
“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations,” Hinchey said. “It has transcended borders and wreaked havoc on entire populations, including those of our respected competitors. Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all.”
In his letter Hinchey said, “As this global pandemic has grown, we have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down and watched them struggle to find ways to continue to prepare and train — many for the biggest competitive opportunity of their lives.”
In North America and most of Europe, facilities where Olympic hopefuls train and compete have been closed due to fears of coronavirus spread. Most events that allow athletes to qualify have also been put on hold with no word as to when or how those athletes might qualify in the months or weeks leading up to the Games.
For backers of Utah’s efforts to bring another Winter Games to the state, work is continuing as usual on updating plans for a future bid, according to Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the recently formed Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games.
“We’ve actually had some virtual meetings with the budget team to drill down,” said Bullock, who served as the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. “We’re busy in the background to make our plans even more solid.”
The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.
–Dick Pound, IOC committee member
That includes continuing to talk with the USOPC as recently as last Friday about whether to bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, he said. The national Olympic committee chose Salt Lake City over Denver as its pick for a future Winter Games.
“They have people that are focused on future bids and we’re in touch with them and they are less preoccupied with Tokyo so they work with us and are very insightful. So that has been ongoing,” Bullock said,
But there has not been contact with the IOC, which has already been looking at potential future Winter Games hosts. Besides Salt Lake City, both Sapporo, Japan, and Barcelona, Spain, which is joining with regional mountain communities, are interested.
“The IOC has other things obviously to worry about so our timing with them is subject to the coronavirus and the impacts of that,” he said. “So once they get past this ... we’ll establish contact with them.”
Bullock declined to discuss the effects of a possible delay in the Tokyo Games.
“We’re just moving ahead at a normal pace,” he said. “Fortunately, our Games are way down the road, a decade or more, so there’s plenty of time to work through those issues.”
On Monday, Japanese soccer star Nahomi Kawasumi pulled out of the Olympic Torch Relay citing fears about being infected by the new coronavirus — or infecting others — as she travels back to Japan from the U.S.
“Because of the new coronavirus, I am withdrawing from the torch relay,” she said on Twitter. ”I have made the decision so I don’t cause trouble for my team and my fans.”
Just a few hours after that, Japan’s Olympic Organizing committee announced the torch relay, which was set to begin on March 26 will be scaled back to a “tour” rather than a relay.