John Treacy calls for 2020 Olympics to be postponed

Sport Ireland CEO is latest voice in growing calls for IOC to push the Games back

Four-time Olympian and 1984 marathon silver medallist John Treacy believes the IOC need to look at postponing the Tokyo Games beyond this summer, describing the current uncertainty around qualification as ridiculous and impossible to plan for.

As chief executive of Sport Ireland, Treacy is also directly conscious of the impact the coronavirus is having on elite Irish athletes currently preparing for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, whether they’ve already qualified or not.

“I think the least-worst option would be to put them back until the autumn,” says Treacy. “If that doesn’t happen, then give it the year. In fairness to some athletes if they push them back any longer, say 2022, it would to be too long.

“That decision needs to come sooner rather than later. Athlete welfare is the most important thing here, should be the basis for any decision. Time is running out. If I was an athlete, I would prefer if they had decided by now, that we’re going to push this back to the autumn time. It would take some of the pressure off in terms of qualification, which is big uncertainty right now, a huge issue.”


Despite increasing dissent among athletes, coaches and some member federations, the IOC said on Tuesday there was no need for “any drastic decisions at this stage”, encouraging all athletes to continue to prepare as usual. With the Games now just four months away, and an increasing number of countries still coming to terms with the coronavirus crisis, that says Treacy is far easier said than done.

"From the athlete's point of view, we saw the situation with our boxers at the qualifying tournament in London last weekend. The tournament was abandoned, and rightly so. Brendan Irvine was the one boxer who got across the line [in qualifying], which is fabulous, but for the rest of them, who put all their nervous energy and physical conditioning into this, it's very demoralising.

“Now, if you haven’t qualified already, where will that chance come? When is it going to be? And it’s impossible to plan for a peak when you don’t know any of that. If you look at track and field, it’s all about peaking, usually once or twice in any given season.

“If you’re trying to peak for qualification, that is now critical. Both physically and emotionally, you then have to build it back up again for the summer. With the marathon, if you’ve qualified early that’s a big advantage, but if you’re looking to qualify now there are no marathons.

“The lack of training is one thing, the lack of competition is another. If you look at track and field, the NCAA season [US college] has been cancelled, the first three Diamond League meetings have been cancelled, so any athlete trying to get ready for July, without any competition, is facing a real difficulty.

“It’s the same with a lot of other sports, and we still have a long way to go with the coronavirus, by the appearance of things. In some countries athletes aren’t even allowed outside to train. And speaking as a former distance runner, you can’t train inside in your house for very long.”

Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, admitted on Wednesday the Tokyo Games could be compromised if all athletes weren't given the same opportunity to train, and while adamant the Games could still happen in July, told BBC Radio 4 that "nobody is saying we're going come what may".

Treacy is adamant that decision is now pressing: “You want the best athletes at the Olympics. If they have the Games in July, that would be a serious issue. It all seems a bit ridiculous, to be quite honest. Again you have to look at the athlete welfare, whether or not it will be safe to travel during that time. If a country remains in lockdown because of the virus that would be impossible.”

Part of the problem is the fact there is no precedent here: the only Olympics that didn’t go as planned were in 1916, 1940 and 1944, due to the outbreak of World War, but never before have they been postponed. The IOC’s hand may soon be forced on this issue, should for example the US Olympic Trials, scheduled for June, be postponed.

Sport Ireland has kept their campus facility open to elite athletes only, at least for now, but there’s no certainty around that either.

“Everything is limited at the moment, everything is pulled back, and if things change again in the next week that’s another matter. It’s not ideal. Any athlete will tell you the best training is done in a group, to beat the monotony and all that.

“These things are all minor in terms of what’s happening with the bigger picture, athletes know that too, the need to safeguard their health. But then they look at this July deadline that’s coming down the tracks.”