Some have criticised the International Olympic Committee for not having a contingency plan for the games. (AP: Jae C. Hong)
“Everything is possible and nothing is possible at the moment and I think that’s where pretty much the rest of the world is.”
- The IOC has been criticised for not announcing any contingencies if the Games cannot go ahead
- World Athletics has postponed several major events and finding new dates is challenging
- Olympic officials have confirmed that delaying the Tokyo Games is almost impossible
Those are the words of the president of World Athletics, Sebastian Coe, reflecting the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic for all sports on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games schedule.
The presidents of 33 Summer Olympic sports dialled into a conference this week with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, to discuss the issue.
Speaking to The Ticket, Lord Coe says the group is united in committing to the scheduled July 24 start of the games, “for the simple reason that at this moment there isn’t any reason to make a decision about that”.
“It may be that we are confronting challenges nearer the time … but at this moment it’s a decision we don’t have to make,” he says.
“The overwhelming view was not that we’re saying we go ‘come what may’, that’s clearly not what’s being said, what sport is really saying I guess is that we don’t have to make a precipitous decision now with four months to go.”
The IOC has been criticised for its refusal to admit to any contingency plans should the Games not be able to go ahead with the scheduled July 24 start.
It has led to repeated accusations that the global body is living in a bubble.
While not a member of the IOC himself, Lord Coe carries the authority of being the head of the Olympics’ most high-profile sport.
Lord Coe says organisers don’t have to make a decision yet, four months out from the Olympics. (Reuters: Eric Gaillard)
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“Look, everybody wants clarity — you want clarity, I want clarity, various sectors of our economy need clarity — that’s not an unreasonable thing,” he says.
“But it just isn’t that possible at the moment.
“All I can say from athletics’ point of view is we’ve had to make contingencies, we’ve made changes to our own program and we are absolutely committed to never putting our athletes into dangerous situations … that is something that is being monitored all the time.
“I’m focused primarily on the welfare and the safety of the athletes.
“I’m also trying where possible to keep them in training so that with a bit of luck and some judgment we’re able to resurrect the season and not cut them off from income which is absolutely vital for them.
“There is a third consideration … I also will do everything I possibly can to keep the business model for the sport safe because clearly, like all sport, we’ve been badly buffeted in the last few weeks.”
World Athletics has had to postpone a number of its flagship events — the World Athletics Indoor Championships, World Half Marathon Championships and World Race Walk Championships among others.
The task of finding replacement dates for those events is a major challenge in what has become a squeezed global calendar.
“The knock-on effect is also going to be profound because it’s not as easy as simply saying ‘oh well we’ll just move our events one year down the road’.
“The international sporting calendar is a very complicated matrix.
“It’s almost impossible just unilaterally to decide ‘oh well we can’t do it in six weeks’ time or six months’ time so we’ll just move it to the same date next year.”
This week Olympic officials have confirmed postponing Tokyo would be virtually impossible.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
As suggested by the former IOC vice president recently, the Games will either be on, or they will be cancelled.
Lord Coe says he doubts any sports federation could remember a time where so much energy was expended in managing a crisis such as that posed by COVID-19.
As an athlete, Lord Coe won two Olympic gold medals in the 1,500 metres at the two editions of the games marred by the Cold War era boycotts — Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984.
He says although the circumstances are different, that ordeal has some similarities to today’s coronavirus challenge.
Lord Coe winning a gold medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. (Retuers: Action Images/MSI)
“The similarity around uncertainty is a fair one to make but I do think this does have a different level of severity,” he says.
“There were many athletes in 1980 — me included — that were out training hard in March or April and in the back of our minds we were wondering whether this was something that was forlorn.
“This is why I’m loathe to make precipitous decisions about removing events from the calendar until we really have to.
“I also know the psychological fillip that will be derived from many countries and many people in those countries in the comfort of watching their athletes perform in an Olympic games.
“That is actually important.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
The current health crisis may change the way we all do business in the future, according to Lord Coe.
“I made the point in our council meetings that there will probably be a new norm for all of us after this — whether in sport, politics, the commercial sector, academia, or the sciences — and that is how we go about our business,” he says.
“Is it sensible any longer to make eight people fly in from eight time zones to make a presentation to a council that lasts 45 minutes?
“Clearly the answer is no.
“I think this will probably be one of those moments where all organisations start looking at how they re-engineer how they do things.”