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Spring Olympics a possibility

ATHENS • International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has said the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games faced “thousands” of logistical and financial problems, while they could also go ahead before summer next year.

Though most people have assumed the Games will be held around roughly the same July-August timetable as they were planned for this year, he said earlier dates in 2021 were possible.

“The agreement is that we want to organise these Games at the latest in the summer 2021,” he said yesterday following a conference call with 33 international sports federations. “This is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table including the summer 2021.

“After consulting them, we also have to take into account the sporting calendar around the Olympic and many, many other issues.

“We should come to a solution as soon as possible, but first priority should be to really to take the input of all stakeholders into account.”

Bach, a 66-year-old German lawyer and former Olympic fencing champion, also said that a task force called Here We Go had been set up, with members drawn from the IOC’s coordination commission and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee. One of its many tasks is to work towards determining a new date for next year.

Tuesday’s postponement decision, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested upwards of US$12 billion (S$17.4 billion). It has also given the host a massive headache to reorganise logistics, funding and sponsorship.

Bach said he could not guarantee all elements of the Games would remain as initially planned.

For example, he did not know what would happen with the athletes’ village, where apartments were set to be sold after the Games.

“This is one of the many thousands of questions this task force will have to address. We hope and we will do whatever we can so that there is an Olympic village,” he said.

“Our mission is to organise Games and make dreams of athletes come true. We are confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and, in the end, have a wonderful Olympic Games.”

He added that the IOC is due to start talks from today with other global bodies because moving the gigantic Games has a knock-on effect for many other competitions.

Swimming’s 2021 world championships set for July 16-Aug 1 in Fukuoka in southern Japan look likely to be the first casualty, should the Olympics be held in the summer. The 2021 World Athletics Championships – scheduled for Oregon in the United States, from Aug 6 to 15 – are also certain to be postponed after organisers said they would switch it to accommodate the rescheduled Games.

Two major football events due this year had already been moved to next year before the Games’ announcement, with decisions last week to delay the European Championship and South America’s Copa America by a year. The two continental competitions will each now start on June 11 and end on July 11.

Other 2021 events featuring Olympians that will be affected by the Games postponement include the world boxing championships in New Delhi, the EuroHockey championship in the Netherlands in August, and the European basketball championship in September.

Meanwhile, the United States’ Olympic qualifying trials for athletics, swimming and gymnastics have been postponed for this year, officials said on Tuesday.

Sources told Reuters new dates could not be set until the IOC determines the 2021 dates for the rescheduled Games.

Australian athletes who have already qualified will be assured of their spots next year, said the country’s Olympic committee.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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Olympics: Japan PM Shinzo Abe, IOC agree to delay Tokyo Olympics by one year

ATHENS (REUTERS, AFP) – Japan will hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games by the summer of 2021 at latest, owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday (March 24).

“I proposed to postpone for about a year and president Bach responded with 100 per cent agreement,” Mr Abe told reporters.

He made the comment in a briefing with reporters following a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Thomas Bach.

“We asked president Bach to consider postponement of about one year to make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition, and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators.”

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike separately told reporters the Games would still be branded “Tokyo 2020” even if they take place next year.

A joint statement by the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee read: “In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO (World Health Organisation) today, the IOC president and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

The July 24-Aug 9 Games have been the last major sporting event left standing in coming months as the coronavirus pandemic put most of the world in virtual lockdown.

The IOC and Japan’s initial repeated insistence that the event would go ahead as scheduled – and then their weekend announcement of a lengthy, one-month consultation over possible postponement – perplexed many.

The Olympics have never been delayed in their 124-year modern history, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars. Major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984.

Pressure on the IOC had been accelerating fast in recent days, with Canada, like Australia, saying it would not participate if the Games went ahead.

Other nations have also pressed hard for a postponement and a quick decision by the Olympic body to end uncertainty.

Athletes, though sad, were mainly in agreement with a delay, given health risks and disruption to their training as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools shut down around the world.

“I have ridden not just a roller coaster but the entire theme park of emotions,” Keesja Gofers, part of the Australian women’s water polo team, said on Instagram.

“I am relieved. Athletes around the world will now have the chance at a proper preparation and the Olympics can, on whatever date they are held, continue to be a coming together of the world’s best at their best.”

The coronavirus pandemic has raged around the world, infecting nearly 380,000 people, killing more than 16,500 and wrecking sports events from football’s European Championship to Formula One.

“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 United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said.

The US is by far the most successful nation in the history of the modern summer Games, while the rights deal with American broadcaster NBC to televise the Olympics represents from 50 per cent to 70 per cent of the IOC’s total annual revenues.

“Today the Games are not the priority, the priority is health, and that is how the world of sports contributes to that international solidarity,” Mr Tony Estanguet, head of the Paris 2024 Olympics organising committee and an IOC member, told France Info radio.

Japan and the IOC have previously said calling off the Games entirely is not an option, but a delay would present major logistical difficulties given the crowded global sporting calendar and complex commercial considerations.

World Athletics has said it would be willing to move the 2021 world championships, scheduled for Aug 6-15 in Eugene, Oregon, to clear a path for a 2021 Olympics.

Postponement would be a massive blow for hosts Japan, which has pumped in more than US$12 billion (S$17.3 billion) of investment, while huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.

But a poll showed about 70 per cent of the Japanese think a delay is appropriate.

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Coronavirus: It's no joke, ex-Olympic swim champ van der Burgh warns after struggles in recovery

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Olympic champion swimmer Cameron van der Burgh said on Sunday (March 22) that he had contracted the coronavirus, offering an insight into how the infection could affect 2020 Olympic hopefuls.

“I have been struggling with Covid-19 for 14 days today,” the South African wrote on Twitter. “By far the worst virus I have ever endured despite being a healthy individual with strong lungs (no smoking/sport), living a healthy lifestyle and being young (least at risk demographic).”

The 2012 Olympic 100m breaststroke gold medallist, two-time 50m world champion and former world-record holder retired from the sport in 2018.

A still-fit 31, van der Burgh remained among those least likely to be severely impacted by the deadly virus.

But he said the debilitating effects of the illness were lingering.

“Although the most severe symptoms (extreme fever) have eased, I am still struggling with serious fatigue and a residual cough that I can’t shake,” van der Burgh wrote.

“Any physical activity like walking leaves me exhausted for hours.”

He followed his London triumph with a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and retired after winning gold in the 2018 short course world championships.

He said contracting the virus would be a severe blow to any athlete in training.

“The loss in body conditioning has been immense and can only feel for the athletes that contract Covid-19 as they will suffer a great loss of current conditioning through the last training cycle. Infection closer to competition being the worst.”

As the International Olympic Committee faced mounting pressure to delay the 2020 Tokyo Games in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, van der Burgh feared that Olympic hopefuls would put their health at risk trying to prepare.

“Athletes will continue to train as there is no clarification re summer Games and thus are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk – and those that do contract will try rush back to training most likely enhancing/extending the damage/recovery time,” he wrote.

“Please, look after yourself everyone! Health comes first – Covid-19 is no joke!”

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Olympics: Athletes should continue to prepare for competition, says USOPC

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said its athletes should continue to prepare for competition while taking appropriate precautions amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has cast doubt on whether the Tokyo Games could go forward.

Disruptions to qualifying events have been “significant” committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said, adding that the group is working to adapt those events in the run-up to the Olympics.

“We are very clearly encouraging everyone in our community to put their safety and the safety of those in their communities and those around them first following the guidance of local health officials above and beyond anything else,” said Hirshland, in a conference call following the USOPC board meeting.

“We’re also asking athletes if it is available to them and in a safe and in a appropriate environment based on local health official guidance to continue to do what they can to prepare themselves for competition.

“We know the training schedules of our athletes have been significantly disrupted and as we are having to be creative and nimble in adapting our lives we are asking athletes to do the same but put their safety first and foremost.”

She conceded the outbreak has caused significant disruption to qualifying events for the 2020 Olympics, which are scheduled to run from July 24-Aug 9.

Those disruptions she said are likely to continue.

“Our teams are working very hard to partner with each sport and national governing body and the athletes from those sports to determine how to adapt team selection and selection criteria so we are prepared for a variety of potential outcomes,” said Hirshland.

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Olympics: Swimming Australia call for 'level playing field' if Games go ahead

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Swimming Australia has called on the International Olympic Committee to ensure there is “a level playing field” if the Tokyo Games go ahead as athletes struggle to train properly because of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open message of solidarity aimed at “peers and colleagues in every sport”, Swimming Australia offered their support to anyone affected by the pandemic, which has shut down pools and gyms in large parts of the world.

With IOC and Tokyo organisers saying they were continuing to plan for the Games to open on July 24, Swimming Australia said it should be taken into account that “athlete preparation is being severely compromised”.

“We hope the IOC… are considering everything they can to ensure that there is a level playing field, with athletes being able to perform in healthy conditions,” the message continued.

“We do understand that decisions about the Olympics… are extremely difficult to make, and that it would be devastating to all involved if cancelling or postponing becomes the outcome.

“At the heart of the Olympic… competition is the notion of fair play – a value we hold very close, and we do not want that to be compromised.”

Swimmers, like track and field athletes, are particularly sensitive to disruptions to their training regimes as they look to peak for a major championships.

United States backstroke specialist Jacob Pebley on Thursday (March 19) called on USA Swimming to postpone June’s Olympic trials and lobby for the Tokyo Games to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Some athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, have gone further and accused the IOC of putting their health at risk by ploughing ahead with plans to hold the Games in July and August.

Swimming Australia said their team would continue to work hard to prepare for the Games but would not lose sight of the fact that some things are more important than sporting success.

“We love to compete, but the health and safety of everyone and the notion of fair competition should always be paramount,” the message said.

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