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USA Track and Field piles pressure on IOC to postpone Tokyo Olympics

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USA Track and Field has joined numerous other stakeholders in urging the International Olympic Committee to postpone this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The plea came just a day after USA Swimming called on the IOC to delay the Games by a year because of the ongoing health crisis.

The Olympics are due to take place from July 24 to August 9, with the Paralympics to follow from August 25 to September 6. An IOC task force has said that it is too early to decide whether the coronavirus pandemic will impact the Games but IOC president Thomas Bach remains confident they will not be cancelled.

“The cancellation is not on the agenda,” he told the New York Times. “We are committed to the success of these Games.”

Bach added: “We don’t know what the situation will be. Of course we are considering different scenarios, but we are contrary to many other sports organisations or professional leagues in that we are four and a half months away from the Games. What makes this crisis so unique and so difficult to overcome is the uncertainty. Nobody today can tell you what the developments are tomorrow, what they are in one month, not to mention in more than four months.”

However, pressure is quickly mounting on the IOC to reconsider. In an open letter to United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chief executive Sarah Hirshland, which was released on March 21, USATF chief executive Max Siegel said it would be challenging for athletes to “properly train in a safe and adequate environment” amid the pandemic.

“We acknowledge that there are no perfect answers, and that this is a very complex and difficult decision,” Siegel wrote, “but this position at least provides our athletes with the comfort of knowing that they will have adequate time to properly prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to participate in a safe and successful Olympic Games.”

The letter was well-received by American athletes. Olympian hurdler and world champion Lolo Jones tweeted: “I’m glad USATF spoke up. The IOC encouraged all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games telling athletes to carry on as normal amidst this public health crisis is irresponsible and demeaning.”

A day earlier, USA Swimming chief executive Tim Hinchey called on the USOPC to seek a one-year postponement. “Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all,” Hinchey wrote. “Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities.”

USA Gymnastics has, meanwhile, asked its athletes for their thoughts on a postponement.

The US national governing bodies were joined by the French Swimming Federation, UK Athletics and both Brazil and Norway’s Olympic Committees in publicly calling for a delay.

A decision, one way or the other, appears imminent. World Athletics president Lord Coe said in a statement: “A decision on the Olympic Games may become very obvious very quickly in the coming days and weeks.”

Coe added: “I don’t think we should have the Olympic Games at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety. The issue of competition fairness is paramount. If we lose the level playing field, then we lose the integrity of the competition. Nobody wants this, least of all the athletes or the fans.”

Meanwhile, former IOC member Richard Peterkin tweeted: “The clamor from stakeholders for a postponement of the Games is growing steadily.”