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Welsh Olympic Hopefuls Sit And Wait For The Inevitable

The prospect of Welsh athletes – or anyone else for that matter – showing up at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer appears to be disappearing.

The International Olympic Committee needs to postpone the Games and Paralympics now according to the competitor-led movement Global Athlete.

The organisation, fronted by former British cyclist Callum Skinner, believes the Games should be rescheduled until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.

Skinner – who won Olympic gold in Rio 2016 as part of the same British cycling team as Wales’ Geraint Thomas, Becky James and Elinor Baker – warned mass boycotts could follow if the IOC decides to go ahead with the Games in July, putting the health of athletes at risk.

Skinner said that athletes aren’t superheroes and they are just as likely to contract the virus as anyone else could be.

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said it is to step-up its “scenario planning” for the Tokyo 2020 Games — including a possible postponement.

But within 24 hours, both Canada and Australia said they would not be sending athletes if the Games went ahead as scheduled this year as pressure on organisers to postpone intensified.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government had on Sunday and Monday slightly shifted their position that the Games would start as planned on July 24, announcing a month-long consultation over other “scenarios”.

That was not sufficient for the Canadians or Australians, who said they would not be participating if the Games were not pushed back to 2021.

Canada’s Olympic Committee (COC) and Paralympic Committee (CPC) released a statement saying that while they recognized the complexities of a postponement, “nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community”.

Martin Richard, communications chief for the CPC, said the Canadians had been hoping for a decision on Sunday and decided to withdraw when none came.

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“The world is facing a crisis and this is more important than any other sport event,” he said.

Richard said for Paralympic athletes, some of whom had underlying conditions, it would be risky to expose them if the virus was not contained.

“We felt it was unethical to have them be put in that position,” he said, adding that Canada had not been alone in applying pressure on the IOC to postpone.

More than 14,600 people have died globally since the coronavirus outbreak began and containment measures have severely hampered the ability of some athletes to prepare for the Games.

While many Canadian athletes and officials welcomed the COC’s move, some were not happy.

“I believe in the safety of our lives but this is premature,” Sage Watson, the reigning Pan American champion in the 400 meters hurdles, tweeted.

Soon after the Canadian statement, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said it had told its athletes to prepare for a Tokyo Games taking place in 2021.

“The AOC (Executive Board) unanimously agreed that an Australian team could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad,” read the statement.

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“The AOC believes our athletes now need to prioritize their own health and of those around them, and to be able to return to the families, in discussion with their national federations.”

The announcements followed a weekend in which major stakeholders such as U.S. Track and Field and UK Athletics, along with some national Olympic committees, had called for a delay because of the pandemic.

The IOC responded on Sunday with a statement that promised discussions in the next four weeks over scenarios that would include an option of putting back the July start date, or even moving the Games back by a year or more.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe followed suit early on Monday by telling parliament that postponement may be considered if holding the Games in its “complete form” became impossible.

“If that becomes difficult, we may have no option but to consider postponing the Games, given the Olympic principle of putting the health of athletes first,” he said.

Abe also said calling off the Games entirely was not an option, echoing the IOC position in its statement that cancellation “was not on the agenda”.

The Olympics have never been postponed or cancelled during peacetime but the IOC’s decision to consider postponement was met with relief from several other major stakeholders, including World Athletics, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and major national Olympic committees.

Canada’s boycott will only add to the pressure for a quick decision, however.

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“We welcome the IOC Executive Board decision to review the options in respect of a postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” British Olympic Association chairman Hugh Robertson said on Sunday.

“However, we urge rapid decision-making for the sake of athletes who still face significant uncertainty.”

The last major boycott of the Olympics was when the Soviet bloc stayed away from the 1984 Los Angeles Games, although North Korea and Cuba skipped the 1988 Seoul Olympics.


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