Despite increasing alarm and uncertainty the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains adamant there is no need for "any drastic decisions at this stage" regarding the Tokyo Games this summer, and has encouraged all athletes to continue to prepare as usual.
They have again dismissed the likelihood of any postponement, adding that “any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive”, but have admitted there will be some changes to the final qualification process.
The IOC outlined these plans in a lengthy 1,200-word statement issued after Tuesday’s crisis teleconference talks with the main stakeholders in the Tokyo Games, beginning with the Olympic Summer Sports Federations. The talks will continue on Wednesday with the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), the athletes’ representatives, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and other International Federations (IFs).
For now at least they are still working towards the Opening Ceremony on July 24th, noting nonetheless that the situation is “changing day by day” - including the fact earlier on Tuesday the opening three Diamond League meetings of the track and field season were postponed, with more inevitably to follow.
Their statement began: “The IOC will continue to act as a responsible organisation. In this context, the IOC asks all its stakeholders within their own remits to do everything to contribute to the containment of the virus.
“This is an unprecedented situation for the whole world, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this crisis. We are in solidarity with the whole of society to do everything to contain the virus. The situation around the COVID-19 virus is also impacting the preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and is changing day by day.
“The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive. The IOC encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can.”
For the time being, however, the IOC “will continue to monitor the situation 24/7” On the matter of qualification, they stated: “Currently, all Olympic Movement stakeholders and the athletes face significant challenges around securing the final qualification places for the Games. In some countries, athletes are even finding it hard to continue their regular training schedules. The IOC is reassured by the solidarity and flexibility shown by the athletes, the IFs and the NOCs, that are managing these challenges across a number of sports.
“To date, 57 per cent of the athletes are already qualified for the Games. For the remaining 43 per cent of places, the IOC will work with the IFs to make any necessary and practical adaptations to their respective qualification systems for Tokyo 2020.”
These adaptations will need to be implemented sport by sport because of the differences between qualification systems. The IOC has already put in place an accelerated procedure to solve this situation. Any necessary revisions to the Tokyo 2020 qualification systems by sport will be published by the beginning of April 2020 and communicated to all stakeholders.
"The health and well-being of all those involved in the preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is our number one concern," said IOC President Thomas Bach. "All measures are being taken to safeguard the safety and interests of athletes, coaches and support teams. We are an Olympic community; we support one another in good times and in difficult times. This Olympic solidarity defines us as a community."
Rowing, cycling, and boxing are just some of the Olympic sports to have already either cut short or postponed some of their main Tokyo qualification events, all sports expected to submit their final entries by July 6th, in advance of the Opening Ceremony, still set for Friday, July 24th.
Earlier on Tuesday the Wanda Diamond League group announced three immediate changes to its 2020 timetable of 15 meetings in response to the growing global crisis around the coronavirus. The meetings scheduled for April 17th in Qatar, then May 9th and May 16th in China, have been postponed, putting a question mark over the following meetings in Stockholm (May 24th ) Rome (May 28th ) and Rabat (May 31st).
One of the major track and field qualifying events is the US Olympic Trials, and for now they remain scheduled for June 19th -28th at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, although ticket sales have been suspended. All US college sports, many of which run into June, have already been cancelled for the remainder of the season. Should the US Olympic Trails be postponed, however, this would inevitably force the IOC’s hand and see the Tokyo Games postponed into later 2020 or else beyond.