Stakeholders open to rescheduling of 2021 World Athletics Championships

Hayward Field hosts the 2018 Division I Women's Outdoor Track & Field Championship (by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

World Athletics and the local organising committee of the 2021 World Athletics Championships, Oregon21, have said they are open to rescheduling their event to accommodate any possible postponement of the 2020 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The United States is due to host its first edition of the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon from August 6-15 next year, but these dates may now clash with a rescheduling of Tokyo 2020. On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was beginning talks about alternatives to hosting the 2020 Olympics as scheduled, due to the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the process would last four weeks and that cancelling the event is “not on the agenda”.

A variety of sports bodies have since joined the growing calls for Tokyo 2020 to be delayed. Athletics’ world governing body said in a statement reported by the Reuters news agency: “World Athletics has already been in discussion with the Oregon 21 Organising Committee regarding the possibility the Olympic Games may move to next year.”

USA Track and Field (USATF), the governing body for the sport in America, said it supported the talks over potential date changes for Oregon21. World Athletics, then known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in April 2015 made the controversial move of awarding its 2021 World Championships to Eugene.

The IAAF said the proposal to award its premier competition to Eugene, bypassing the usual bidding process, was taken in response to what was seen as a “unique strategic opportunity” to host the World Championships for the first time in the United States.

Oregon21 is currently pressing forward with plans for its event, which include a major redevelopment of the Hayward Field stadium in an effort to transform it into the world’s leading track and field venue.

Oregon21 chief executive Niels de Vos said in a statement reported by The Oregonian newspaper: “We have discussed this possibility with all our key stakeholders and can reassure World Athletics that we will work with them to assure that Oregon can still host the (World Outdoor Championships) on alternative dates should that prove necessary.”

The news concerning the World Athletics Championships comes as IOC member Dick Pound yesterday (Monday) sought to further flesh out the IOC’s earlier statement, stating his belief that a postponement of Tokyo 2020 will happen. “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound told the USA Today newspaper. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

The Canadian official, a senior figure in IOC circles, said the Games will likely move to 2021, with details to be worked out over the next month. “It will come in stages,” Pound, who at 78 years old is the longest-serving IOC member, said. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”

Pound last month estimated there is a three-month window to decide whether the 2020 Games will proceed as planned in Tokyo, indicating that a cancellation is more likely than a postponement should challenges provided by Covid-19 prove insurmountable. Tokyo 2020 is scheduled to run from July 24 to August 9, and with a number of other major sporting events either being postponed or cancelled, its status has lately been the subject of much debate.

Pound added to Reuters yesterday: “From reading IOC-speak in the communique, if you are going to cancel you simply cancel because there are no future plans. But if you are going to carry on with the original objective (to stage the Games) there is no reason to issue a statement because you have already done that over the past several weeks.

“Look at the Japan situation. You have the prime minister talking about postponement, so you then come to the P word, ‘postponement’, and the four-week delay is probably what you need to come up with a preliminary plan in favour of the postponement. What else is there?

“It is a general sort of language but that’s what you do if you are an international organisation trying to leave yourself as much flexibility as you can.”

He concluded: “There is a ton of things that have to be discussed and negotiated in something as complicated as the Olympics. This (Covid-19) is clearly not something that is going to be under control by June or July and probably not by the end of the year, so a one-year postponement looks like the best interim solution you can devise. No one wants to cancel the Games.”