Bach eyes spring date for Tokyo but faces ‘huge puzzle’
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.
▲The Olympic flame sits on a display after its relay was halted after the Games were pushed back to 2021