Canadian IOC member believes Tokyo Olympics will be postponed
Dick Pound said he expects Games scheduled for July will be pushed back
Veteran International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound of Montreal believes the 2020 Tokyo Games will be postponed.
Pound told The Canadian Press in a phone interview he expects the July 24 start of the Olympics to be pushed back.
"You're looking at a postponement," Pound said Monday. "I think that's out there now.
"We're all reading the tea leaves and so on, but the Japanese themselves are talking about postponing. A lot of National Olympic Committees and countries are calling for a postponement."
Canada called for a postponement on Sunday night.
The committees determined a Games in July was counter to the country's efforts to stem the spread the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought global sports to its knees.
"I'd like to think it means is that we don't prioritize gold medals at all costs, that at a time when our prime minister, our minister of health and our public health officer are telling us that it's time to stay indoors, flatten the curve, socially distance, that our athletes are saying ,'We're Canadians, too, and we're going to do our part,"' Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker said on a conference call.
"And I'm very proud of our athletes frankly for taking the lead in saying that."
Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees made the right decision in announcing Canadian athletes will not go to this summer's Olympics or Paralympics if they start on their scheduled dates.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said Sunday night it would hold back its athletes if the Games start as scheduled and called for a postponement until 2021.
"I know this is heartbreaking for so many people — athletes, coaches, staff and fans. But this was absolutely the right call, and everyone should follow their lead," Trudeau said Monday in Ottawa.
WATCH | COC says athletes won't attend if Olympics held in 2020:
Trudeau said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is "very much aware of the challenges" with the Tokyo Games attempting to start on time.
The Summer Olympics are scheduled to start July 24 with the Paralympics slated to follow on Aug. 25.
Craig Reedie, a longtime member of the IOC, told The Associated Press that everyone can see where things are headed, with the coronavirus pandemic spreading and Olympic hopefuls around the world unable to train.
"In the balance of probabilities, the information known about conditions in Japan and the COVID-19's effect on the rest of world clearly indicates the likelihood of postponement," Reedie said. "The length of postponement is the major challenge for the IOC."
IOC president Thomas Bach said Sunday morning that the global organization was considering options, including postponement, and a decision will be made within four weeks. Cancelling the Games entirely, Bach said, was not being considered.
Bach's stance wasn't strong enough for Canada. Delaying the decision by a month would force athletes to continue to train, which runs counter to the country's stance.
And so the country's major Olympic players — from the COC and CPC and their respective athletes' commissions, to Sport Canada, the national sport organizations and high performance centre directors — gathered via conference calls Sunday to determine how best to proceed.
'The turning point'
Shoemaker said it dawned on them they'd been asking themselves the wrong question.
"The turning point was when the Government of Canada put a real emphasis on the importance of flattening the curve and social distancing, and what we realized is the question wasn't so much, 'Could we send a team of athletes, coaches, mission team members, and fans and all the like to Tokyo to compete safely in July of 2020?"' he said. "The question was whether it was fair and appropriate to ask our athletes to be training for those Olympics in July today here in Canada, and put themselves, their families and their communities at risk.
"The answer to that question was 'No.'"
Shoemaker said two-time Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan was a strong voice in the conversations.
"She wanted to stop focusing on pursuit of a gold medal and start focusing on how she can be a role model for Canadians in flattening the curve," said Shoemaker, who was hired as the COC's CEO in December 2018. "And so this decision was made in concert with the entire Canadian sport community … and while it was by no means an easy decision, in fact, I want to underscore how difficult a decision it is to take. It was one done in unity with the Canadian sport community."
Could the Olympics be postponed to this coming fall? The COC doesn't think so.
"We think [one year] will optimize a variety of things: one is the possibility that this disease is under control or that there are potentially treatments or vaccines in play or that the world has found a way to rid of itself of COVID-19. It also allows for an optimum amount of time for planning," Shoemaker said.
"But there are no shortage of complexities.… One thing I would be concerned about is that it potentially tells our athletes: time to train again in a setting where in Canada, COVID-19 and the risks of infection are still not eliminated."
A World Health Organization spokesperson said Monday it is part of deliberations with the Japanese government and the IOC on any decision about the Olympics, but said those two organizations will make the final call on a postponement or cancellation.
"I believe a decision will be made very soon regarding the future of the Games," WHO's Dr. Michael Ryan said at a briefing on Monday. "The decision to postpone the Games would be purely the decision of the Japanese government and the IOC.
"But we are obviously in the process of offering them risk advice, and as we've said previously, we have every confidence the Japanese government and the IOC would not proceed with any Games should there be dangers to athletes or spectators."
'The right call'
The head of health and safety for the 2012 London Olympics, now the British Safety Council chair, lauded Canada's stance and hopes other countries to follow suit.
"It's absolutely the right call," Lawrence Waterman said. "The difference between Canada and the IOC is that Canada has recognized delaying the decision is itself causing problems for people.
"Canada has spoken for itself. It hasn't said 'you must abandon the Games.' It's just said we're not going to participate this year. That is a way of putting respectful gentle pressure on the IOC.
"I'm hoping later this week the IOC makes the right decision and if it does, I think the Canadian position will have been seen to have hastened that, and I think that's in everyone's interests."
Canadian sprint star Andre De Grasse said he woke up with mixed emotions after hearing of the COC's decision.
"It was a bold move. I was very surprised," De Grasse said in a statement.
WATCH | Athletes' reaction to COC decision:
"Up until this morning, I've been doing the best job I could training on a grass soccer field after our regular training facilities were closed down. I've been feeling anxious going about my business of training when so much of the world has been under quarantine. On one hand, I need to stay at home with my family and on the other, I need to keep training.
"After some solid results at last year's world championships, I was really excited about the Games this summer, and training had been going really well. At this stage, I'm going to have sit down with my coach and re-evaluate my training plans. Right now, it's a waiting game."
Canada's statement joins a growing chorus of critics around the IOC's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian Olympic Committee has told its athletes in a statement on its website they should prepare for the Tokyo Games in 2021.
Russia backed the IOC's approach of taking time to consider postponing the Tokyo Games and condemned the body's critics.
The Russian Olympic Committee called for "complete support" of the plan.
"We view as unacceptable any attempts to bring pressure on the organizations in charge responsible of staging the games and to force them to take rash decisions," the ROC said in a statement.
The IOC and Japan's organizing committee had consistently said the Games would go ahead as planned.
But Abe changed his tune Sunday, saying a postponement of the Tokyo Games would be unavoidable if the Games cannot be held in a complete way because of the coronavirus.
With countless cancellations, only 57 per cent of Olympic qualification spots have been determined.
Since the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, only world wars have cancelled Games in 1916, 1940 and 1944.
There have been three major boycotts, in 1976 in Montreal, 1980 and 1984.
Following the COC's decision, Canada Basketball announced the likely postponement of a men's Olympic qualifier June 23-28 in Victoria. Canada Basketball says it remains committed to hosting the tournament in Victoria.
With files from The Associated Press