Both committees sent a survey to approximately 4,000 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls over the weekend, to gauge their opinions over whether the Games could go ahead as planned this summer.
Of the 45 percent of athletes who responded, 93 percent called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Olympics as opposed to canceling them altogether, with 65 percent indicating the COVID-19 outbreak was having a major impact on their ability to train and 68 percent stating they did not think the Games could be “conducted on a fair playing field if they continue as scheduled.”
The games are scheduled to be held in Tokyo between July 24 and August 9 but their fate appears increasingly in doubt as the world battles to contain the virus.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” USOPC board chair Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a joint statement on Monday night.
“To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”
The move from USOPC was echoed by the New Zealand’s Olympic Committee after it carried out a similar survey among its athletes that delivered the same results.
“Our focus is first and foremost the athletes, New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith said in a statement on Tuesday. “It has been important to us to give them the opportunity to talk to us. We value their resilience and flexibility and we know working through the changes won’t be easy.”
“We support their position and will now share their views with the IOC as we advocate internationally on behalf of New Zealand athletes and sport. We reiterate the need for a swift decision.”
Both statements come just 24 hours after Canada became the first country to warn it won’t send its athletes to the Olympics, unless they are postponed by a year because of the pandemic.
“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement. “This is not solely about athlete health—it is about public health.”
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has also warned its athletes to get ready for the Olympics to be held next year.
With the exception of the two world wars, the Olympics have never been canceled since they began in their modern guise in 1896, and over the last six weeks both the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizers have steadfastly insisted the Games would go ahead as planned.
Some 11,000 athletes are expected in Tokyo this summer and postponing the Games would be a huge logistical challenge for the organizers and the IOC, but it appears increasingly inevitable amid the pandemic, which has ground sport to a halt across the world.
On Monday, Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, told USA Today that the Olympics were almost certain to be postponed.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” he was quoted as saying, indicating the decision had been made when the IOC Executive Board met on Sunday.
“The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
The Olympics governing body, however, was yet to confirm a decision had been taken.
“It is the right of every IOC Member to interpret the decision of the IOC Executive Board which was announced yesterday [Sunday],” the IOC told Newsweek on Tuesday.
Earlier this week, Tokyo organizing committee chief Yoshiro Mori floated the possibility of postponing the Games, suggesting delaying the event was one of the contingency plans organizers were considering and that a decision would be made in four weeks.
The former Japanese Prime Minister warned the financial hit of postponing the Games was a major issue for both the IOC and Tokyo’s organizing body, but acknowledged organizers were aware of mounting criticism from athletes and national olympic committees.
In a speech to parliament on Monday, Abe conceded for the first time the Olympics could be postponed, if they can’t be held in its “complete form” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If that becomes difficult, we may have no option but to consider postponing the Games,” he said.
Over the weekend, IOC President Thomas Bach suggested a decision will be taken within four weeks.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 1,120 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Japan, with 42 deaths and 285 people recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.
Over 16,500 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China’s central Hubei province, late last year. There are over 382,000 cases globally, with over 101,000 recovered.