Acceptance Growing That Tokyo Games Could Be Postponed
Olympic insiders have reported a growing acceptance that the Tokyo Games simply cannot happen as planned, despite the IOC’s statement yesterday that it “remains fully committed” to this summer's event. The IOC noted there are still “four months to go." But experts don’t believe the normal preparations can be made with the unpredictability of the virus’ course. Sources said that the situation for U.S. and European athletes is untenable. Most Americans have not yet qualified, and qualified or not, it is hard to train under “social distancing” measures that have closed gyms and college campuses nationwide. Sources said that an alternative path, postponing the Games one year until summer '21, now is in play. Meanwhile, the USOPC BOD today starts a two-day meeting by teleconference, its first regularly scheduled meeting since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. The meeting will likely be dominated by discussion of the virus’ possible effects on the Tokyo Games. It is the first board meeting for new member Dr. Vivik Murthy, the former U.S. Surgeon General who was appointed earlier this year to replace former Michael Bloomberg aide Dan Doctorff. Murthy advised the NBA BOG on the virus earlier this week. USOPC leaders say they will take post-board meeting questions from the media on Friday morning (Ben Fischer, THE DAILY).
JUST A MATTER OF TIME? The AP's Paul Newberry wrote it "seems a fait accompli" that the IOC will be forced to delay the Tokyo Games, a fact that organization and Japanese Olympic officials are "slowly accepting after defiantly proclaiming for weeks that the games would go on as planned." Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after an IOC meeting yesterday said, "I want to hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly, as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus." Newberry: "The best time for that is next year." A decision about this year "shouldn't be stretched out for more than another month." Postponing the event until '21 "would certainly be an enormous, complicated task ... given the complex financial web that includes broadcasters, sponsors, sports federations and a couple hundred national Olympic committees." However, it is "hard to see any of them putting up too much resistance to staging the games in 2021 in light of current events" (AP, 3/17). In London, Matt Lawton cites sources who are "90 per cent certain" that the Games will be postponed (LONDON TIMES, 3/18).
IMPACT ON ATHLETES: Dave Marsh, a San Diego-based swim coach for several Olympic hopefuls, said, "If things don’t change dramatically, I don’t see how they don’t change the schedule. Let’s just do it one year later. The sooner we make that kind of decision the better.” In N.Y., Futterman & Keh report additionally, the IOC and international sports federations are "seeking to manage the final qualification process that determines who makes the Games," as just 57% of the Olympic spots have been "secured by athletes" thus far. Even if federations are "able to reschedule competitions that have been canceled, it’s not clear that athletes from every country will be able to participate because of their exposure to the coronavirus," which "could force the federations and national Olympic Committees to use current rankings to select Olympians." IOC President Thomas Bach "gave the federations until the beginning of April to come up with new qualification standards." In a letter, he "left little doubt that he remained determined to use the Olympics to signify a celebration of the end of the coronavirus crisis" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/18).
QUALIFYING & TRAINING: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Bachman, Higgins & Radnofsky note U.S. Olympic-trials postponements, and the "threat of more, has thrown into disarray the usual multisport selection process for Team USA," and that is "leaving in limbo a growing pile of qualifying events for the nation that often has the largest contingent at the Games." Training "woes also continue to multiply, further throwing into doubt the situation for many of the top American hopefuls." Yesterday, the USOPC "shuttered its pool, velodrome and gymnasiums at the official Training Center in Colorado Springs for 30 days," while a training center in Lake Placid also has closed. Meanwhile, U.S. Olympic trials for wrestling, scheduled for early April, were postponed late last week (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/18). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan notes Gold Medal-winning U.S. swimmer Lilly King "trains at her alma mater, Indiana University, but the school is now closed." King said, "A lot of the swimmers are based out of the university. We don’t really have a place to train right now." She added, "It is stressful because things are changing daily. I don’t think they’re going to cancel, but if they postpone for another year, that definitely changes a lot of people’s plans" (USA TODAY, 3/18).
WRITING ON THE WALL? In Toronto, Dave Feschuk writes the IOC's "blindered adherence to the appointed path is either inspiring or tone deaf." It is "inspiring because the Olympics, if they're about anything, are about perseverance." But it is "tone deaf, to some ears, because it appears to ignore some grim realities" about the coronavirus pandemic. The IOC at least acknowledged yesterday that there are "real obstacles to overcome between now and a July 24 opening ceremony." Feschuk: "In the face of a global pandemic, it would be wonderful if we could all believe there was a light at the end of the dark tunnel through which we’re travelling." But it is getting "harder and hard to imagine the world descending on Tokyo in late July" (TORONTO STAR, 3/18). In N.Y., Jules Boykoff writes under the header, "Cancel. The. Olympics," as the IOC "refusing to even consider alternatives is reckless." Boykoff: "Cancellation may appear ominous. But in reality, it would be a remarkable act of global solidarity" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/18).