Olympic decision: IOC sets four weeks deadline

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For weeks IOC head Thomas Bach has been fighting against a transfer or cancellation of the Olympic Games. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced those responsible to act. There is now a deadline of four weeks for possible scenarios, then there should be clarity.

Within four weeks there should be clarity about a possible postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee set this deadline after a telephone conference of the executive, but at the same time ruled out a complete cancellation of the summer games. This was announced by the IOC on Sunday evening, after the pressure for a decision had increased.

From the light at the end of the tunnel
“Human lives come first, even before the games are played. The IOC wants to be part of the solution,” said IOC boss Thomas Bach. He said he hoped that the hope expressed by so many athletes, National Olympic Committees and international federations from all five continents would be fulfilled. “That at the end of this dark tunnel through which we are all walking together, not knowing how long it will last, the Olympic flame will be a light, said Bach.

So there is still a little hope left for the German fencing Olympic champion of 1976, who had long resisted all discussion – despite the many calls for a postponement of the Tokyo Games. But after the World Health Organization reported daily increasing numbers of sars-CoV-2 infections and deaths, the IOC had to act.

A temporary game
Bach now plays for time and hopes for improvement. Others have already given up this hope. Max Hartung, chairman of the association “Athletes Germany” has already decided not to take part in the Tokyo Games, if they should take place in summer. The American Athletics and Swimming Federation has also made corresponding demands for a postponement.

It is conceivable that the Summer Games planned from July 24 to August 9 could be postponed until the fall, summer 2021 or even 2022. The most likely scenario would be to postpone them by one year, which would also be a monumental decision of unprecedented dimensions in view of the fixed schedule in world sports. In the summer of 2021, for example, the World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, and the World Athletics Championships in Eugene/USA are planned. The fact that the Winter Olympics will take place in February and the Football World Cup in November and December speaks against 2022.

Cancellations have been made more often
A postponement of the Olympics would be a historic decision, but there will be no cancellation like there have been several times in the past because of the rampant virus. During the First World War the Summer Games 1916 (Berlin), during the Second World War the Summer Games 1940 (Tokyo) and 1944 (London) and the Winter Games 1940 (Cortina d’Ampezzo) and 1944 (Sapporo) were cancelled.

Although Japan has got the virus well under control, the pandemic is spreading worldwide. A sporting event with around 11 000 athletes and thousands of spectators, coaches and journalists would hardly be justifiable. “There is virtually no better festival for viruses than such an event,” warned virologist Alexander Kekulé on ARD’s “Sporschau” show.

Hardly any training possible
Also, due to the going out and travel bans in many countries, regular preparation for competitions is no longer possible, not to mention regular doping tests. In addition, there is the problem of the Olympic qualifications, which have been cancelled in the last few weeks.

If the Olympics were now to be rescheduled, the last major event would also be cancelled. The European Football Championship, Formula 1 races, the French Open, the Ice Hockey World Championship or the national leagues – the sports world has been at a standstill for weeks.

On Saturday evening, the German Olympic Sports Federation informed about 200 top athletes in a video conference about the state of the Olympic debate. The DOSB called on its athletes who are qualified or could still make it, to vote for or against the scheduled holding of the Summer Games. “The DOSB is doing a very good job,” Hartung praised the umbrella organization and explained in response to the vote: “There is a clear commitment to include the athletes’ vote in the DOSB’s position on the Games. This is unique in the world.”

The Olympic flame is already on the scene…
Regardless of the pandemic, the IOC and the host country continued the Olympic rituals of preparing for the Games over the weekend. On Saturday, more than 55,000 people came to Sendai Station in northeastern Japan to receive the Olympic flame that had arrived there. The government had urged the public to avoid large gatherings. [best/dpa]

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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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