HEARD AT HALFTIME: Canada, Australia say they won’t go to Tokyo in 2020; Athletics Assn. survey shows 78% in favor of 2021 Games

News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● Sunday was one of the wildest days in Olympic history – off the field – as:

● The International Olympic Committee announced that it was considering new scenarios, including postponement of the Tokyo Games, with a decision to come in four weeks;

● The Canadian Olympic Committee released a statement that “Team Canada to be absent from Olympic Games if held in summer 2020.” The news release noted “The COC and CPC urgently call on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to postpone the Games for one year and we offer them our full support in helping navigate all the complexities that rescheduling the Games will bring.”

● The Australian Olympic Committee told its athletes that its Executive Board “unanimously agreed that an Australian Team could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad.”

● World Athletics President Sebastian Coe (GBR) sent a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) stating that “an Olympic Games in July this year is neither feasible or desirable” and goes to list his reservations, including competition fairness, possible injuries from excessive training and emotional well being. It’s the first International Federation to call for a postponement.

On Monday, new developments continued the momentum toward postponement:

● The Athletics Association, a start-up group designed to represent professional track and field athletes, released the results of a survey taken over the weekend that showed 78% in favor of postponing the Games for a year.

The survey also showed the same 78% were against cancellation of the Games and 87% who said their training had been compromised in some way by the COVID-19 outbreak. A total of 4,036 responses to the survey were recorded, although it is not clear that individuals could not vote more than once.

The accompanying statement, signed by U.S. athletes Christian Taylor and Emma Coburn – both Olympic medal winners and world champions – added that “we’re imploring the IOC to announce the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics much sooner than four weeks’ time.”

Their closing comment: “The Olympics is the pinnacle for all competitors in the sport of Athletics, but asking athletes to risk their physical and mental health preparing for an Olympic Games in the middle of a pandemic that is crippling the world, in unfair, immoral and shows a huge lack of empathy.”

● British Olympic Association chief Hugh Robertson told the Sky Sports News that “We can’t see any way that this can go ahead as things are constituted. I expect we will be joining Canada and Australia shortly.”

● Most important in all of this were comments by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Parliament on Monday:

“If I’m asked whether we can hold the Olympics at this point in time, I would have to say that the world is not in such a condition. … It’s important that not only our country but also all the other participating countries can take part in the games fully prepared.”

This is the key to the situation, and from here, the IOC and the Japanese hosts can figure out the next steps: postponement, a new set of dates and a long list of logistical issues to be solved, none of which will make everyone (anyone?) happy.

Basketball ● Nearly lost in the COVID-19 panic was the passing of one of the giants of international basketball, former FIBA Secretary-General and IOC member Boris Stankovic, at age 94 on 20 March.

Stankovic was a basketball player himself in Yugoslavia and played in the first FIBA World Cup in 1950. He became the federation’s Secretary-General in 1976 and in the run-up to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles began a long relationship with the National Basketball Association Commission David Stern that eventually led to the approval of NBA players in the Olympic Games. The 1992 “Dream Team” was a direct result of Stankovic’s leadership, as were many lesser-known contacts during the Cold War between western nations and the Warsaw Pact countries.

Stankovic was a consummate gentleman, a good listener, but always knew what he wanted and was dedicated to high standards of play, sportsmanship and cooperation in promoting the game. He ended his term as FIBA Secretary-General in 2002, having taken the federation to heights it could not have imagined.

Swimming ● South African breaststroke star Cameron van den Burgh, 31, shared his experience on Twitter after having contracted COVID-19:

“1/ Some personal thoughts/observations for athletes health,The summer games & my own experience with contracting Covid19.

“2/ I have been struggling with Covid-19 for 14 days today. By far the worst virus I have ever endured despite being a healthy individual with strong lungs(no smoking/sport), living a healthy lifestyle and being young (least at risk demographic)

“3/ Although the most severe symptoms(extreme fever) have eased, I am still struggling with serious fatigue and a residual cough that I can’t shake. Any physical activity like walking leaves me exhausted for hours.

“4/ The loss in body conditioning has been immense and can only feel for the athletes that contract Covid-19 as they will suffer a great loss of current conditioning through the last training cycle. Infection closer to competition being the worst.

“5/ Athletes will continue to train as there is no clarification re summer Games and thus are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk – and those that do contract will try rush back to training most likely enhancing/extending the damage/recovery time.

“6/ Please, look after yourself everyone! Health comes first – COVID-19 is no joke!”

Van den Burgh retired in December 2018, and finished with an Olympic gold (100 m Breast 2012) and silver (100 m Breast 2016), plus 18 World Championships medals in both Short- and Long-Course events.

At the BuZZer ● Not everyone is excited to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. Olympic sprint champ Simone Manuel posted on her Twitter account:

“Please please please stop asking what I, and other athletes think about the Olympics/How do I/we feel if the Olympics is postponed. I have NO control over the situation, and as important as the Olympic dream is to me as an athlete, as a human, I am more concerned about the safety and health of my fellow Americans, and the entire world.”

Pretty good advice there.

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