As the International Olympic Committee launched into detailed talks that could lead to the postponement of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, there was disagreement Monday over whether a decision had already been reached.
When asked if the coronavirus pandemic has prompted leadership to settle on switching to a later date — perhaps in the summer of 2021 — IOC Vice President Anita DeFrantz said: “I think that might be a bit premature.”
Longtime IOC member Dick Pound of Canada offered another perspective.
“It is my view that the IOC has decided to postpone the Games,” Pound said. “They’ve fired the gun; now it is just a matter of putting shape to the exercise.”
On Sunday, Olympic leaders issued a lengthy statement vowing to “step up” discussions on the issue with Tokyo 2020 organizers, Japanese government officials and public health experts.
Cancellation of the Games, currently set to begin on July 24, is not on the table. The IOC executive board said it expects to reach a final determination within four weeks.
“You wouldn’t have to send out that communication if you were sticking with July 24 and you wouldn’t have to put out a communication like that if you were going to cancel the Games,” Pound said. “What all that does is put postponement on the table and they’re going to have to negotiate what the shape of that will be.”
Asked about his comments, an IOC spokesman responded: “It is the right of every IOC member to interpret the decision of the IOC [executive board] which was announced yesterday.”
Varying opinions are nothing new to an organization that comprises scores of voting members from countries around the globe.
At the IOC’s headquarters in Switzerland, leadership has faced growing criticism for its hesitance to react to the coronavirus. Pressure intensified over the last 48 hours as the Canadian Olympic Committee declared it will not send a team to Tokyo in July and Australia advised its athletes to prepare for a one-year delay.
“This is not solely about athlete health,” Team Canada said. “It is about public health.”
Recent days have also seen national Olympic committees from Brazil, Norway and Slovenia call for postponement.
On Monday, USA Gymnastics said that a survey of its athletes found 62% of respondents favor delaying the Games. The national governing body joined with USA Swimming and USA Track & Field in calling for a new date.
When asked why the IOC had not already announced a change, Pound said: “It’s like all international organizations — they try to leave themselves whatever wiggle room is there.”
Switching the date would be complex. International federations representing more than 30 summer sports have secured host cities and venues for their world championships in 2021. The IOC said millions of Tokyo hotel rooms have been booked for this summer and some of the city’s venues might not be available a year from now.
“There would be a jiggling of the schedule,” Pound said. “But swimming and all the other sports really want the Olympics for exposure. They want that world stage.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers face another challenge: Their sprawling athletes village is scheduled to be sold off, piece by piece, as condominiums in the fall. If the Games move to the summer of 2021, athletes might have to be housed at a different location.
Still, Pound does not see a viable option.
“No,” he said. “I think the arrow has left the bow.”