The Tokyo Olympics now looks unlikely to proceed on July 24, with the Australian Olympic Committee telling athletes to prepare for 2021.
The International Olympic Committee said overnight Sunday it was making contingency plans to postpone the Games, immediately followed by news that Canada and Australia would to pull their athletes from competition.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics would be unavoidable if the games cannot be held in a complete way because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian Olympic Committee told its athletes on Monday to prepare for the Games to be held in the northern summer of 2021.
It says an Australian team can’t be assembled for the Tokyo Games.
“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 in a statement on Monday.
After an emergency round of teleconference talks, the AOC said athletes needed to prioritise their own health and be able to return to the families.
“We are now in a position where we can plan with greater certainty,” Carroll said.
“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.”
Australian team chef de Mission for Tokyo Ian Chesterman said the Games could not 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,” he said.
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.
“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.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee had earlier called on the IOC to postpone the Games.
“The COC and CPC urgently call on the International Olympic Committee, and the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organisation to postpone the Games for one year and we offer them our full support in helping navigate all the complexities that rescheduling the Games will bring,” the Canada committees said in a statement.
“While we recognise the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” it added.
Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Abe ruled out the prospect of a cancellation, but appeared open to a postponement.
The IOC has committed to examine “scenario planning” over the next few weeks and make a decision on when or if the Games would proceed.
“This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan,” the IOC said in a news statement.
“It will serve as the basis for the best decision in the interest of the athletes and everyone else involved.”
Mr Abe, speaking at a parliamentary session, ruled out the possibility of a cancellation.