IOC struggles to keep Olympics on track

Reuters Athens | Updated on March 18, 2020 Published on March 18, 2020

Organisation’s decision to go ahead with event as planned dubbed ‘irresponsible’

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is facing its strongest headwinds in decades as it prepares to brief national committees on Wednesday on the state of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic, with voices of dissent growing louder.

The IOC has remained committed to staging the Tokyo Games as planned from July 24 to August 9, saying on Tuesday after a meeting with international sports federations that measures against the virus were delivering results.

The IOC has refused to publicly consider cancellation or postponement as possible options, even as other major events including soccer’s Euro 2020 and Copa America and the French Open tennis grand slam announced postponements on Tuesday.

The virus has also wreaked havoc with Olympic qualification tournaments with athletes struggling to train, travel or compete and many pre-Games qualifiers cancelled or postponed.

Tokyo is set to host around 11,000 athletes and 53 per cent have already earned their spot at the Games. The remaining 43 per cent will clinch their place through modified qualifiers, or previous performances based on ranking.

Under the current exceptional circumstances, the IOC said, solutions needed to be found that were appropriate, though they might not be ideal for all athletes. “This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions,” the IOC told Reuters on Wednesday.

“The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes’ health.

IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser called the decision to proceed with the Games “insensitive and irresponsible” in the most vocal attack on the Olympic body since President Thomas Bach took over in 2013.

Wickenheiser, who competed in five Winter Games in ice hockey and at the 2000 Summer Olympics in softball, said that continuing with the Games as planned ignored the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Crisis bigger than Olympics

“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” Wickenheiser tweeted. “Athletes can’t train. Attendees can’t travel plan. Sponsors and marketers can’t market with a degree of sensitivity.”

“The IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.”

Several athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the IOC’s decision was putting athletes’ health at risk, urging them to train as normal when entire countries have shut down to contain the virus spread. Stefanidi told Reuters, “We all want Tokyo to happen but what is the Plan B if it does not?”

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Published on March 18, 2020
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