Bach eyes spring date for Tokyo but faces ‘huge puzzle’

The Guardian - - Sport - Sean In­gle

The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent has con­firmed a cherry blos­som Games in the spring of 2021 is un­der ac­tive con­sid­er­a­tion for the resched­uled Tokyo Olympics.

Thomas Bach said an IOC task­force called “Here We Go” would start talks with 33 in­ter­na­tional sports fed­er­a­tions about set­ting new dates for the Tokyo Olympics and Par­a­lympics to­day. But he warned: “It’s a huge jig­saw puzzle and ev­ery piece has to fit. If one piece is taken out it can de­stroy it. The Games have never been post­poned be­fore. There is no blue­print.”

An IOC co­or­di­na­tion com­mis­sion that has been over­see­ing prepa­ra­tions will now work to­wards de­ter­min­ing a date for next year amid a chaotic sports cal­en­dar, which has been se­verely dis­rupted by the Covid-19 pan­demic.

“The agree­ment is that we want to or­gan­ise these Games at the lat­est in the sum­mer 2021,” Bach said. “This is not re­stricted just to the sum­mer months. All the options are on the ta­ble in­clud­ing sum­mer 2021.”

Host­ing the Tokyo Games in the spring would have at least one ma­jor ad­van­tage – it would be far cooler than in the sum­mer. But Dai Greene, the former world 400m hur­dles cham­pion, warned it would give ath­letes less chances to qual­ify, es­pe­cially if coro­n­avirus leads to the 2020 sum­mer of sport be­ing can­celled.

“When do we get the chance to com­pete and qual­ify for a spring Games?” Greene wrote on Twitter. “This sum“We mer will be sparse at best. Some­one have a word.”

The chief ex­ec­u­tive of Bri­tish Row­ing, Andy Parkin­son, said row­ers would pre­fer a sum­mer Games. “The IOC de­ci­sion to post­pone the Games was very welcome – although it was clear over a week ago that train­ing was be­ing com­pro­mised and that our row­ers’ abil­ity to achieve their own dreams was be­com­ing less and less likely.

“We un­der­stand the IOC needs to have lots of con­ver­sa­tions with broad­cast­ers, with the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee and sports, and it is not sim­ple to rear­range. But what­ever the IOC de­cides, row­ing needs to de­cide the im­pli­ca­tions for qual­i­fi­ca­tion and how we se­lect our team. So early 2021 is not prefer­able for us.”

On Tuesday the IOC agreed with Ja­pan to the first peace­time post­pone­ment in the Olympics’ 124-year his­tory, although many have ques­tioned why a seem­ingly in­evitable de­ci­sion took so long to make. Bach, who in­sisted he had no in­ten­tion of re­sign­ing, said the “dy­namic” spread of the virus had led to the ramp­ing up of dis­cus­sions around a post­pone­ment.

had at the very be­gin­ning of this cri­sis a clear fo­cus on the de­vel­op­ment in Ja­pan, where we had al­ways to eval­u­ate whether it would be in a po­si­tion to of­fer a safe en­vi­ron­ment for ev­ery par­tic­i­pant,” he said. “This fo­cus then shifted more and more to the in­ter­na­tional world.”

Ja­pan re­mained “very con­fi­dent” it could suc­cess­fully host the Games right up to last week­end, Bach added, but the pic­ture be­gan to change on Sun­day when the IOC saw the spread of the virus in Africa and other parts of the world.

“On Sun­day morn­ing I called an emer­gency meet­ing of the IOC ex­ec­u­tive board with the aim to open a dis­cus­sion with our Ja­panese hosts and part­ners and friends about the post­pone­ment of the Games,” Bach said. “We could not man­age such a post­pone­ment without the sup­port of Ja­pan.”

The IOC pres­i­dent said one prob­lem that needed ad­dress­ing was en­sur­ing the ath­letes’ vil­lage would be fully ac­ces­si­ble next year, although families are not due to move into their apart­ments un­til 2023. “This is one of the ques­tions of many thou­sands this task­force will have to ad­dress,” he said.

Parkin­son said Bri­tish Row­ing would be work­ing with each mem­ber of the squad to make sure they were safe and not stress­ing about train­ing or the de­lay in the Olympics.

“We are in daily contact but as ev­ery­one knows this is a much big­ger cri­sis than just sport,” he said. “There’s also a lot of un­cer­tainty. Some of our ath­letes have got com­mit­ments in 2021 so go­ing through to the Games is now not a pos­si­bil­ity – in­clud­ing a mem­ber of our team who has al­ready de­ferred a univer­sity place for a year.”

It is un­clear how UK Sport will fund Bri­tish ath­letes and sports for the next year, given fund­ing for the Tokyo 2020 cy­cle runs out shortly. Parkin­son ex­pects the prob­lem to be re­solved. “There is a real un­der­stand­ing on the fi­nan­cial im­pact this may have on na­tional gov­ern­ing bod­ies,” he said.

KIMIMASA MAYAMA/EPA

▲The Olympic flame sits on a dis­play af­ter its re­lay was halted af­ter the Games were pushed back to 2021

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