Cancelling the Olympics due to coronavirus ‘not on the agenda,’ says IOC president

Preparing for the possible cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
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Despite mounting global efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its president Thomas Bach remain steadfast in their determination to host the Tokyo Olympics.

In a lengthy interview with the New York Times published on Thursday, Bach said: “Cancellation (of the Olympics) is not on the agenda.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Olympic champion blasts IOC for putting athletes ‘in danger’

Bach also said it’s “too early” to make any decisions on the fate of the Games and whether they should be postponed.

“What makes this crisis so unique and so difficult to overcome is the uncertainty,” Bach said. “It would not be responsible in any way to set a date or take a decision right now, which would be based on the speculation about the future developments.”

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The Olympics is scheduled to run from July 24 to Aug. 9 in Tokyo. The Games typically bring together more than 10,000 athletes from 190 countries, plus hundreds of thousands of tourists and spectators.

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The IOC has faced increased criticism over the past week for its unwillingness to acknowledge that the Games could be cancelled, delayed or significantly affected by the spread of the new coronavirus.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Health experts say it’ll take a ‘miracle’ for Olympics to go ahead as planned

Several athletes, including Canadian hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser and Greek Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, have called the IOC’s response to COVID-19 “irresponsible and insensitive,” adding that athletes are being put “in danger” by the IOC when encouraged to continue preparing for the Games during a global pandemic.

British rower Matthew Pinsent, a four-time Olympic gold medallist, said recent statements made by Bach were “not compatible” with the instinct to stay safe and follow government instructions for slowing the spread of the virus.

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“I’m sorry Mr. Bach but this is tone deaf,” Pinsent wrote on Twitter earlier this week.

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Pinsent has said the Games should be called off.

Bach disagrees.

“We are affected by this crisis like everyone else and we are concerned like everybody else,” Bach told the Times. “We are not living in a bubble or on another planet. We are in the middle of our societies.”

IOC ‘considering different scenarios’

While the IOC has acknowledged the “unprecedented” nature of the global response to COVID-19 — including the mass cancellation of Olympic qualifying events and the suspension of professional sporting leagues around the world — Bach says that with four months to go before the start of the Games, it would be irresponsible to make any decisions now.

There is a joint task force advising the IOC on how to respond to the new coronavirus outbreak. It includes representatives from the Tokyo organizing committee, Japan’s government and the World Health Organization.

READ MORE: ‘Insensitive and irresponsible’ — Hayley Wickenheiser calls out IOC decision on Olympics

According to Bach, the advice he has received so far is that it’s still unclear how the pandemic will unfold, adding that there are “many different prognoses.”

“Some are telling you it will everywhere follow the same curve. Others are saying this will take much longer. The third ones are saying there will be different waves and we will have to live with it for a long time,” Bach said.

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Still, Bach and the IOC have admitted that the cancellation of Olympic qualifying events and the inability of some athletes to train due to increasingly restrictive lockdowns around the world mean there is no ideal solution that could make the Games fair for everyone.

Asked if the IOC was working on plans to move the Games to either later this fall, next summer or summer 2022, Bach again said he would not speculate.

“We don’t know what the situation will be. Of course, we are considering different scenarios,” he said.

The Times interview did not contain any indication of what these scenarios might be, and Bach declined to provide a specific date or deadline for when the IOC might decide to postpone the Games, adding that it would be “premature” to make this type of decision without recommendations from the joint task force.