SALT LAKE CITY — A postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games seems almost certain after announcements that Canada and Australia won’t participate, a request to delay from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and an assessment by a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee.
Monday evening, USOPC Board Chairwoman Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland issued a joint statement saying the COVID-19 outbreak was so disruptive to athlete training and competition, there is no choice but to delay the Games.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the statement said.
“To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors. We look forward to their feedback and direction, and stand ready to work in support of Team USA and in full cooperation with the global community.”
Earlier Monday, Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the IOC, told USA Today that the 2020 Tokyo Games will likely be postponed.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said. “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 Hirshland 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.”
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.”
On Saturday, U.S. Track and Field CEO Max Siegel posted a letter that he wrote to Hirshland on Twitter Saturday, which asked U.S. officials to advocate for a postponement, saying that the U.S. athletes will not be able to train to compete at the highest levels during the restrictions imposed by health and government officials.
“We are all experiencing unfathomable disruptions, and everyone’s lives are being impacted accordingly,” he wrote. “For those reasons, USATF is respectfully requesting that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee advocate to the IOC for the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.”
The letter acknowledged there were no “perfect answers” but said immediate postponement at least offers athletes “adequate time to properly prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to participate in a safe and successful Olympic Games. “
Steve Mesler, an Olympic bobsled athlete who serves on the board of directors for the USOPC, wrote in a blog post that athletes didn’t just “want answers now. They need them.” He said athletes were just like anyone else struggling to deal with all of the changes imposed by coronavirus outbreaks in more than 150 countries.
He said the ‘everyday’ mindset and willingness to sacrifice everything ordinary to compete in an Olympic Games requires athletes to prepare for the Games constantly. The pandemic has changed everything for everyone, including Olympians.
In North America and most of Europe, facilities where Olympic hopefuls train and compete have been closed due to fears of the 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.
Salt Lake bid
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.”
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.”
The new committee’s chairwoman, Cindy Crane, said she remains “confident that the Tokyo Games and IOC leadership will make the best decision for the athletes, the stakeholders and the Olympic Movement” and does not see a direct impact on the Salt Lake-Utah bid.
“Clearly there are greater priorities and focus at the present for everyone but I assure you that when the timing is appropriate and right for the USOPC and SLC-UT to advance from the dialogue stage to the candidature stage (with the IOC), we will be ready,” Crane said.
On Monday, there were more calls to postpone the Games, but the IOC was silent. The only communication from IOC officials came Sunday when IOC President Thomas Bach released a letter at Olympic.org announcing that the executive board of the IOC “will step up its scenario-planning for the Olympic Games.”
“These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games,” Bach wrote.
He said the increase in new COVID-19 cases in different countries led the executive board to try and come up with various scenarios.
“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore,” Bach said. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”
He said IOC officials plan to work with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the Japanese government to completely assess the different scenarios and come up with decisions in the next few weeks.
Japan’s cases of COVID-19 just topped 1,000 cases on Saturday. That tally doesn’t include the 712 cases Japanese hospitals treated from cruise ships that were docked near Tokyo in February.
Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports Commission president and CEO, said he understands how difficult the decision is to postpone the Games, particularly when it comes to the impact on corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and other sources of revenue.
“You want to look after the athletes for sure, but there’s the other side of the ledger,” said Robbins a vice chairman of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. He said trying to unwind all of the arrangements already in place is an incredibly complex undertaking.
“It’s a Herculean task,” he said, adding he has confidence in the IOC and other Olympic officials that the right decision will be made. “It just goes on and on. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re taking a little time to sort it out.”
Contributing: Associated Press