2020 Olympics likely postponed as Australia, Canada pull out

TOKYO, 23 March 2020:

Japan’s prime minister today expressed willingness to discuss the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in line with the announcement made in the last few hours by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), while Canada has pulled out of the event.

“If it is difficult to hold [the Games] in a complete way a decision of postponement would be unavoidable as we think the athletes’ safety is paramount,” Shinzo Abe said at a parliamentary session.

Yesterday evening, the IOC had announced it would make a decision on when to hold the Olympic Games within the next four weeks amid the worsening health situation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the first time Abe has openly acknowledged the possibility of a change in dates for the Games – which are scheduled to be held in the Japanese capital between July 24 and Aug 9, followed by the Paralympics from Aug 25 to Sept 6.

At least two countries, Australia and Canada, announced they won’t be sending any athletes to the Olympic Games in Tokyo if they are held this year.

The Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement today it needed to prioritise the health of athletes and of those around them.

Canada yesterday said it will not send teams to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games and called for their postponement by a year.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), backed by their Athletes’ Commissions, National Sports Organizations and the Government of Canada, have made the difficult decision to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020,” the organisations said in a statement.

The COC and CPC also “urgently” urged the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organisation to postpone the event by a year.

The Canadian committees recognised the “inherent complexities” such a postponement would entail but added that “nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community.”

The president of the Ecuadorian National Olympic Committee also said yesterday it would be difficult for the country to take part in the Olympic Games if they are held as scheduled.

“It is not in the interests of Ecuador that the Olympic Games be held on the official date. It would be in its interests that they are postponed by between two to three months,” Augusto Moran said.

“It will be very difficult for the Ecuadorian team to be at the Olympic Games in July 2020 due to the healthcare situation that Ecuador is facing. The common good comes first, in this case, the health of our athletes.”

The Australian Olympic Committee told athletes today to prepare for the postponement of the Games to the summer of 2021.

Abe said the IOC’s decision was in line with his idea that the Games be held in a “complete” way but insisted “cancellation is not an option,” as declared by IOC president Thomas Bach a few hours earlier.

“Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody. Therefore it is not on our agenda,” Bach wrote in an open letter to athletes.

Until now, the IOC had been adamant about going ahead with the Games as planned.

Abe said the event should be safe for the welfare of the athletes and spectators while being proof that the human race has overcome the coronavirus.

The Japanese leader added that he would discuss the way forward with the IOC and the leaders of the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) but admitted that the final decision on the matter would be taken by the IOC.

The deadline to address the possible postponement of the Games was announced by the IOC following a meeting of its executive board in Lausanne, Switzerland, and took place in light of the worsening global situation, according to the IOC.

The Tokyo 2020 organising committee is expected to hold a press conference to express its position on this announcement.

The Japanese authorities today said the Olympic torch relay will begin Thursday as planned from Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, through the entire country before lighting the cauldron at the start of the Olympics.