The pressure from British sport for the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic was ramped up even more on Saturday. Nic Coward, the new chairman of UK Athletics, added heavyweight official backing to the concern expressed by a number of Olympic hopefuls like heptathlon star Katarina Johnson-Thompson about going ahead with the Games this summer. He suggested it should be delayed from its current schedule of July 24 to August 9, saying: “To leave it where it is, that is creating so much pressure in the system. It now has to be addressed.”
Coward’s comments came in the wake of the British Olympic Association’s pledge that they “will categorically not endanger the health or well-being of athletes or the wider delegation at any point.”
Olympic host country Japan remain adamant they will be able to host the Games as planned, while the governing body, the International Olympic Commission, say they are monitoring the situation.
What most troubles competitors across all sports is that training routines are being severely affected by the restrictions on movement and daily life enforced by governments across the globe to stop the spread of the virus.
Qualification events have been cancelled, while indoor and outdoor sports training venues are being shut down.
“Facility operators are making understandable decisions to close places on which our athletes rely to get themselves ready for the biggest test of their careers and their sporting lives,” said Coward. “The intensity of pressure on people right now is too great, and decisions have to be made soon.”
His verdict was echoed by British discus thrower Jade Lally, an Olympic prospect.
“I think the IOC are being very insensitive,” she said. “I don’t know if blasé is the right word, but they’re not thinking about things.
“They can’t tell us to ‘train as normal’ because nobody can train as normal. Literally nobody on the planet is training as they normally would. I don’t think it should go ahead as planned.”
Anxiety is being felt right across the sporting world. Norway and Slovenia have already urged the IOC to postpone the Tokyo Games, as has the USA swimming team.
Another call came on Saturday from Glen Mills, for many years coach to Usain Bolt, and who now trains British sprinter Zharnel Hughes.
“It would be unprecedented to delay the Games, but we are in unprecedented times,” said Mills. “Move everything up one year and then everything will eventually fall back into place.”
German football legend Paul Breitner, a World Cup winner in 1974, believes going ahead this summer would also mean an Olympics tainted by rampant doping.
“When I see these irresponsible neurotics from the IOC it makes me sick,” said Breitner on Saturday. “In all seriousness, do they want festival of doping in the summer? Are they blind? Do they not know what will happen?
“At a time when all medical professionals are concentrating on Covid-19, what do they think will happen in Tokyo? It would be a festival of doping. Who needs the Games in times like this? Nobody.”
On the flip side, the Olympics is by far the biggest and most complicated sports event in the world, and re-arranging it will be much more difficult than delaying the Euro 2020 football tournament for 12 months.
Japan also has a proud of history of overcoming problems and dealing with crisis situations effectively.
If any modern nation can host an Olympics from the current position of deep uncertainty and worry, it is the Japanese.
A fascinating perspective was given on Saturday by another British sporting official, GB taekwondo performance director Gary Hall, who is currently out in Japan.
He believes the prospect of the Games taking place as planned is 50-50, and has been impressed by what he has seen out there.
“They’re obviously very nervous about the circumstances that are going on at the moment,” said Hall. “But their preparations have been brilliant, and the venues and athletics village are outstanding.
“I expected everything to be a bit more frenetic, but they’re in a calm space – and if the Games go ahead they will be ready.
“Things are changing so rapidly around the world, and hopefully it will run. But it can’t run at any cost, and the health and safety of athletes has to come first.”
Published at Sun, 22 Mar 2020 00:00:00 +0000