The Australian Olympic Committee has conceded the Covid-19 pandemic will ensure the Tokyo Olympics is delayed, telling athletes to prepare for a Games in the northern summer of 2021.
The AOC executive board held an emergency round of teleconference talks on Monday morning and agreed a team could not be assembled for this year’s Games given the current situation in Australia and abroad.
“It’s clear the Games can’t be held in July. Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing but the stress and uncertainty has been extremely challenging,” Australian team chef de Mission for Tokyo Ian Chesterman said.
The International Olympic Committee and Japanese government only flagged that postponement was possible during the past 24 hours, having last week maintained a stance that the opening ceremony would be staged on 24 July.
The AOC last Thursday backed the IOC, outlining extreme isolation measures that could potentially be used in coming months to help Australian athletes try to compete at Japan and avoid contracting the coronavirus.
But the penny dropped on Monday, when the AOC spelled out its immediate priority is for athletes to prioritise their own health and of those around them, and to be able to return to the families.
Australia’s unprecedented ban on international travel, states closing their borders and a range of other extreme measures meant it would have been impossible for so many athletes to prepare for an Olympics in 2020.
“We have athletes based overseas, training at central locations around Australia as teams and managing their own programs. With travel and other restrictions this becomes an untenable situation,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said.
“We are now in a position where we can plan with greater certainty. I would like to thank AOC Athletes’ Commission chair Steve Hooker for his valuable contribution to discussions today and over the last week, representing the views of our athletes.”
Chesterman received feedback from Australian athletes across more than 25 sports during the past week, noting they “have also shouldered the burden of concern for their peers around the world”.
“While there will still be much to work out as a result of this change, the timing will allow athletes from around the world to properly prepare with the hope the coronavirus crisis will be under control,” he said.
“We are aware that for many such a postponement will present a range of new issues. But when the world does come together at the Tokyo Olympic Games they can be a true celebration of sport and humanity.”