ATHENS: The International Olympic Committee is facing its strongest headwinds in decades as it prepares to brief national committees yesterday 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-Aug. 9, saying on Tuesday after a meeting with international sports federations that measures against the virus were delivering results.
The coronavirus has so far killed more than 7,500 people and infected about 200,000, with the epicentre now in Europe. 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.
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 continuing with the Games as planned ignored the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” Wickenheiser said in a statement on Twitter. “Athletes can’t train. Attendees can’t travel plan. Sponsors and marketers can’t market with a degree of sensitivity.” “I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.” She is not alone. Several athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the IOC decision was putting athletes’ health at risk, urging them to train as normal when entire countries have shut down to contain the virus spread.
“There is no postponement, no cancellation. But it (the IOC) is putting us at risk,” Stefanidi said in an exclusive interview to Reuters. “We all want Tokyo to happen but what is the Plan B if it does not happen? “Knowing about a possible option has a major effect on my training because I may be taking risks now that I would not take if I knew there was also the possibility of a Plan B.”
Meanwhile, a plane sporting Tokyo 2020 livery departed Haneda International Airport yestersday bound for Athens to collect the Olympic flame, but there was no delegation from organisers onboard due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Tokyo 2020 said it chose not to send the high-level delegation, which was originally set to include organising committee president Yoshiro Mori and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto, to Greece due to the coronavirus.
The flu-like virus has killed more than 7,500 people and brought sport to a standstill around the world. Japan’s ambassador to Greece will receive the flame at a handover ceremony, organisers said. Lower-level Tokyo 2020 officials who travelled to Greece last week will accompany the flame back to Japan. Some 20 airline and airport staff waved the plane off with very little fanfare at the airport, which was almost empty as travel restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus have lead to widespread flight cancellations.
The Olympic flame will arrive on Japanese soil on Friday at Matushima airbase and be greeted by another low key ceremony. Despite sporting events being cancelled across the world in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Olympics organisers maintain the Games will start as planned on July 24. The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it does not plan any “drastic” decisions about the Games, saying it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months’ time despite the global spread of the coronavirus. – Reuters