Canada withdrew, and Australia quickly followed suit, potentially setting off a larger push to postpone this summer’s Olympic Games.
On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published a statement outlining its position on COVID-19 and the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. And for the first time since the pandemic seized the globe, the IOC conceded it may have to postpone the games.
However, the committee also made clear that outright canceling the games was not an option.
“The IOC [executive board] emphasized that a cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda,” the IOC statement reads.
Within hours, Canada issued its own statement and became the first nation to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics.
“With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these games. In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said.
On the heels of that, Australia Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll held a press conference, effectively echoing Canada’s move.
“The Australian team could not be assembled by the changing circumstances here and abroad,” Carroll said. “With the travel restrictions in place, combined with the decision of the IOC, we’ve decided to plan for the hosting of the games in 2021 in Tokyo.”
Summer Olympics: Postponed or Canceled?
Despite pulling out of the games, Canada made clear it did not oppose the IOC’s position. Rather, the country thanked the IOC for its willingness to potentially postpone the games.
“We are thankful to the IOC for its assurance that it will not be canceling the Tokyo 2020 Games and appreciative that it understands the importance of accelerating its decision-making regarding a possible postponement. We also applaud the IOC for acknowledging that safeguarding the health and wellness of nations, and containing the virus must be our paramount concern.”
And this may just be the start. Earlier today, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe wrote a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach, asking him to postpone the games. Coe said holding the games in July as scheduled was “neither feasible nor desirable,” and noted that under the circumstances, athletes’ preparation and physical and emotional well-being would be harmed.
As for the U.S., it remained quiet as of this morning despite calls from American athletes for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to demand a postponement. USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland told the Associated Press that both American swimmers and track and field athletes spoke out in favor of postponement. And she said that the U.S. would put pressure on the IOC to postpone when the time was right.
“We’re hearing from the athletes loud and clear, and I can guarantee you, the IOC is going to hear from us, loud and clear,” Hirshland told the AP. But, she noted, the U.S. also needed to be part of a broader resolution. “My role is not to make demands of those making decisions but to bring forward solutions.”