TOKYO: Canada pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics over coronavirus fears as Japan’s prime minister Monday admitted a delay may be “inevitable” and the International Olympic Committee said a decision should come within weeks.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) also said it could not assemble a team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus outbreak and that its athletes should prepare for the Games to be postponed to 2021.
Japanese and Olympic officials had stuck resolutely to the line that the Summer Games will go ahead on time, but criticism from athletes and sports bodies has swelled to a crescendo in recent days.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament that Japan was still committed to a “complete” Games, but added: “If that becomes difficult, in light of considering athletes first, it may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone.”
It was the second major concession in a matter of hours after the IOC said “the scenario of postponement” was one of the options under consideration, with a final decision due within four weeks.
“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games,” IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in an open letter to athletes after emergency talks.
“Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody,” Bach added. “Therefore it is not on our agenda.”
Athletes and sports bodies have become increasingly vocal after restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 trashed competition schedules and often made training impossible — and risky.
Canada highlighted the dangers to the broader community as they became the first team to withdraw from the Olympics and Paralympics, urging a year’s postponement.
“This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said.
“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 toward these Games.”
Canada’s pull-out came despite the IOC promising to hold “detailed discussions” on the “worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement,” with a decision expected “within the next four weeks.”
AOC Chief Executive Matt Carroll said the AOC’s executive board had made its decision without waiting for advice from the IOC due to changing circumstances with the pandemic in recent days.
“We’ve had to make a call now because of the situation here in Australia and other parts of the world,” Carroll told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
“But the IOC is still working through their final decision-making.”