The International Olympic Committee has given itself a month to consider postponing the event after an emergency meeting on Sunday, CBC Sports has confirmed.
Today’s announcement comes in the wake of a growing chorus of voices from international sport organizations and high-profile athletes calling for the postponement of Tokyo 2020.
Countries around the world have closed borders and enforced strict lockdowns, trying to stop the pandemic. COVID-19 has killed around 13,000 people since surfacing in China months ago.
Pressure to delay Tokyo 2020 mounted throughout the week.
On Tuesday, Canadian hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC’s Athletes Commission and a six-time Olympian, called out the IOC, saying in a statement posted on Twitter that the current crisis is bigger than any Olympics.
“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead with such conviction is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity. We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let alone the next three months,” Wickenheiser said.
After Wickenheiser spoke out, the dominos started to fall.
In the days that followed, the IOC drew heavy criticism for not postponing the Games. USA Swimming called for a 12-month postponement — a move supported by Swimming Canada.
“Telling athletes to prepare for an Olympic Games during a global pandemic raises serious issues,” Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi said in a statement.
“We hold the opinions of our brothers and sisters at USA Swimming in high regard and share many of the same concerns around health and safety. That includes the safety and well-being of our athletes — both physically and mentally — and the safety of the community at large. Each day that goes by without a decision creates more stress and anxiety for our athletes, who are worried, not only about themselves, but about their communities.”
And then on Saturday, USA Track and Field said it also supported a postponement. Soon after, the Norwegian Olympic Committee echoed these sentiments, saying the Olympics should wait until the COVID-19 situation is under control.
Later on Saturday, AthletesCAN — the organization that represents all of Canada’s national team athletes — questioned the International Olympic Committee’s level of empathy, as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
CBC Sports obtained a copy of the internal email sent to all AthletesCAN members. The email raised doubts over moving forward with the Olympics, and the increasingly muddy qualifying schedule.
“While we desperately want to believe that health and safety of all involved in the Games is the utmost priority for the IOC, IPC (International Paralympic Committee) and TOC (Tokyo Organizing Committee), at times, the communication has lacked empathy in recognizing athletes as humans first, and athletes second,” AthletesCAN wrote.
With only 57 per cent of Olympics spots currently decided, and qualifying events continuing to be cancelled, Canadian athletes remain in limbo. Anxiety over the unknown was reaching a fever-pitch. The internal letter suggested athletes are torn.
The organization says they understand that “athletes are currently in a very unpredictable and difficult position, especially as workout facilities and training centres around the country have been forced to close.”
The IOC made a number of calls on Wednesday to reassure jittery partners, including one with more than 200 athlete-representatives from around the world.
“It was constructive in a way that everybody realized that we have still more than four months to go and we will address this action,” said IOC president Thomas Bach.
“We said we were going to continue to be very realistic in our analysis.”
Bach said the IOC will continue to push toward Tokyo while “safeguarding the health of the athletes and contributing to the containment of the virus.”
Throughout all of this, Bach has been adamant that cancelling the Olympics is not an option.
“A cancellation of the Games would be the least fair solution. A cancellation would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes of 206 Olympic committees,” Bach told Germany’s SWR broadcaster.