A 2020 Olympics Delay Seems Inevitable. Is a 4-Week Decision Needed to Get There?

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee is urging that the Summer Olympics in Tokyo be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, including its massive and influential voice to a rising refrain of athletes and sports activities federations objecting to having the Games go on as scheduled in late July and early August.

The International Olympic Committee mentioned Sunday it will make a resolution on suspending or in any other case altering the Games inside 4 weeks.

But that timeline has been met with skepticism and derision, with Canada’s Olympic committee saying it will not ship its athletes this summer time and the Australia committee telling its athletes to plan for an Olympics in 2021. Surveys of athletes are displaying that almost all favor a postponement, as a result of it has turn into more and more troublesome to practice as international locations impose broad restrictions on motion and shut down gyms and different amenities.

The United States committee, representing the biggest delegation of athletes on the Games, mentioned in a assertion Monday evening from its chair, Susanne Lyons, and its chief government, Sarah Hirshland, that it had made the choice after reviewing a survey that yielded responses from 1,780 American athletes.

“Our most vital conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even when the present important well being issues could possibly be alleviated by late summer time, the large disruptions to the coaching atmosphere, doping controls and qualification course of can’t be overcome in a passable method,’’ the statement said. “To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the I.O.C. to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”

U.S.A. Gymnastics on Monday also joined the calls for a postponement, following similar stances by national leaders in swimming and track and field. The three sports typically combine to deliver the most medals for the United States each Summer Olympics.

Li Li Leung, the chief executive of U.S.A. Gymnastics, said her federation’s decision was based on an anonymous survey of its athletes, in which nearly two-thirds of respondents said they favored delaying the Games for at least three months.

“It was really important for us to make sure our athletes’ voices were heard in this,” Leung told reporters during a conference call, adding that the athletes wanted to compete fairly without posing a health risk to others.

The I.O.C. and Tokyo need their decision to come in a way that resolves billions of dollars in financial implications.

“The bottom line is if the I.O.C. or Tokyo unilaterally decide to cancel or postpone without agreement, they would be in breach of contract and the potential financial repercussions are just enormous,” said John Mehrzad, a British sports lawyer who has represented national and international sports federations and athletes in litigation.

“As every day goes by and they don’t make a decision and other countries pull athletes out and the result of that means they can’t go ahead, then both parties will be delighted because it wouldn’t be their fault,” Mehrzad said. “If people try to sue them, they can blame factors out of control for why it isn’t taking place.”

A firm decision may come soon enough; Richard W. Pound, an I.O.C. member, said Monday that the Games would clearly not start as scheduled.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for whom the Tokyo Games are as defining as the Sochi Olympics in 2014 were for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, told parliament on Monday that the country “may have no option but to consider postponing the Games.” Abe said he hoped a decision could be made quickly.

The general sentiment in Japan appears to support a delay. A recent poll conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo revealed almost 70 percent of people did not expect the Olympics to open as billed on July 24.

Bach laid out the I.O.C.’s timeline after an emergency meeting of its executive board on Sunday, saying the group would be guided in its decision by medical experts, specifically the World Health Organization.

Lawrence Gostin, an expert on health law who has advised the W.H.O. on other pandemics but is not involved in the decisions surrounding the Olympics, said hosting the Games could be “catastrophic” for the world.

“You would literally be bringing people from all over the world to Asia and back — it would be such an amplifying effect that we would come to deeply regret it,” said Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown. The institute gives technical and strategic support to the W.H.O. in the United States.

Rescheduling an event as gargantuan as the Games — essentially a series of more than 30 world championships — is hardly an easy task. Shifting requires navigating a thicket of financial obligations that have taken years to construct and will be complicated to unwind and then carry forward.

For example, the Olympic Village, which was expected to host some 17,000 athletes, coaches and support staff during the Games, is scheduled to be converted into permanent housing afterward. Most of the units have been sold, meaning a postponement would require thousands of contracts and leases to be redone.

The I.O.C. also has hundreds of deals with broadcasters and sponsors, many of whom are suffering with the collapse of world markets and are likely to seek a reduction in what they pay to televise the Olympics. While the I.O.C. does have insurance, it’s not yet clear what losses would be covered and what an insurance company might argue would fall outside the policy, which would produce even more litigation.

Mehrzad, the sports lawyer, said the I.O.C. and Tokyo needed to be aligned, at the very least, because canceling without a mutual agreement would put the deciders in breach of contract.

“Commercial partners will have little leverage if the organizers can say the Olympics have been frustrated in their efforts to host the Olympics,” Mehrzad said.

NBC Sports, which televises the Games in the United States and is one of the I.O.C.’s biggest partners, said in a statement that it supported the committee’s approach.

“We are prepared to stand behind any decision made by the I.O.C., the Japanese government and the world health officials with whom they are working regarding the Tokyo Olympics,” NBC Sports said.

Athletes have become increasingly direct in their criticisms of the I.O.C. and Bach.

“Does this mean that athletes face up to another FOUR weeks of finding ways to fit in training — whilst potentially putting ourselves, coaches, support staff and loved ones at risk just to find out they were going to be postponed anyway,” the British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith said on Twitter.

Source link Nytimes.com

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