An International Olympic Committee communique insisting that preparations for the 2020 Summer Games should proceed — and rejecting “any drastic decisions” in the face of the coronavirus outbreak — has sparked debate on the global sports scene.
Faced with criticism, the IOC walked its comments back slightly on Wednesday, issuing a follow-up statement.
“This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions,” a spokesman said. “The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least-negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes’ health.”
Even before the communique was issued Tuesday, the head of France’s national Olympic committee said the Games should not be held until the outbreak begins to subside. A Spanish official called for postponement.
Hayley Wickenheiser, a six-time Olympian and member of the IOC’s athletes commission, was more pointed in her remarks.
“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity,” the Canadian hockey and softball player posted on social media. “We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let alone in the next three months.”
Others expressed confusion as to how they should proceed in training for the possibility of competing in Tokyo this summer.
“The IOC advice ‘encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best they can’ with the Olympics only four months away,” Katarina Johnson-Thompson, a top heptathlete from Britain, noted on social media. “But the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed.”
Even Japanese organizers have taken unusual precautions. On Wednesday, they sent a chartered aircraft to fetch the Olympic flame from Greece but did not include the traditional delegation.
Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors and an assistant on the U.S. basketball staff, told reporters that without much concrete information to work with, he and his colleagues are proceeding on schedule.
“We’re all kind of sitting here wondering what’s going to happen, and so is the rest of the world,” Kerr said on a conference call, according to reports. “We’re just going to plan as if this is going to happen, and we’re going to try and put together a roster, and that’s all we can do.”
In addition to its follow-up statement, the IOC on Wednesday posted similar comments from athletes such as Stephen Curry, Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali and Swiss tennis player Stan Wawrinka.
“Sunny days are ahead of us,” baseball player Carlos Correa posted, adding: “We must work together to overcome these dark times.”
The 2020 Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin July 24 and run through early August.
Olympic leaders have spent this week in teleconferences with national Olympic committees and the international federations that govern each sport.
“No solution will be ideal in this situation,” the IOC stated, “and this is why we are counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes.”