The most important factor in delaying the Tokyo Olympic Games was the World Health Organization’s (WHO) warning to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the coronavirus outbreak would continue to be a global risk in July-August. This statement also means that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to continue threatening the world for longer than previously estimated.
The statement was made by Uğur Erdener, Vice President of the IOC, during an interview with YetkinReport on March 27. Erdener said that WHO told IOC about the risk of serious health problems if the Olympic Games would take place at its scheduled time and that they recommended postponement. He added that the IOC, which prioritizes the health of not only the athletes but everyone concerned with the Games, has taken this decision in cooperation with the government of Japan, which has acted constructively throughout this process.
Erdener also said that the date for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will be announced within three weeks. The world’s largest organization, the Olympic Games are postponed for the first time in history.
Erdener’s answers to YetkinReport’s questions are as follows:
–At the March 17 meeting, the IOC decided to hold the Tokyo Olympic Games between July 24 – August 9, despite the coronavirus outbreak. However, on March 24, the decision to postpone the games for a year was announced. What has changed in the meantime?
-At the 17 March meeting, it was decided that the protection of the health of not only the athletes but everyone concerned was the priority, that there were still 4 months to go before the Olympic Games, and that the IOC would keep track of the situation. In line with the IOC Task Force works, which monitor the process 24/7 alongside the WHO, the IOC Executive Board convened on 22 March via teleconference and evaluated the accelerated developments. Here, it was decided to work on a postponement plan due to the increasing health risk. The Tokyo 2020 Organization Committee had discussed the issue and the Japanese government was aiming to complete the study within 4 weeks.
Meanwhile, an interesting situation has emerged as an issue that I have difficulty in understanding: although their numbers are very few, the National Olympic Committees of some countries have declared that “if the games are not postponed, they will not participate”, and one or two Federations declared their postponement. [Erdener has not named them, Canada and Australia, as countries coasting to the Pacific Ocean like China and Japan have announced that he will not join the Games, following the IOC decision on March 17 not to postpone them. -MY] Again, in this rapidly developing process, WHO said that the problem was growing and the pandemic was shifting to other continents -North and South America, Africa and Oceania.
–Did WHO state to you that to have the Tokyo Games as scheduled in July-August would be a risk? What was the WHO’s statement?
-WHO stated that there will be serious health problems in carrying out the Tokyo Olympic Games on time and recommended its postponement to the International Olympic Committee. As a result, on March 24, IOC President Bach held a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was very sensible and constructive. The parties agreed to postpone the Games with the same name until next year , not exceeding August. Immediately after this meeting, the IOC Board convened and the issue was resolved by unanimous support for Bach and with the participation of the President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
-How did the Japanese government approach this issue? Have there been any Olympic Games that have been postponed or canceled like this before?
-As I mentioned earlier, although the risk of health in Japan has relatively decreased and life has begun to return to normal, Mr. Abe as well as the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have been very sensitive and constructive, and have supported the postponement by taking into account the worldwide situation, and WHO warnings.
This is the first Postponed Olympics Game. The Olympics that should have been held in 1916 were canceled due to WWI, and the ones in 1940 and 1944 due to WWII. But these were canceled, not postponed.
-What other factors did you discuss in taking this difficult but necessary decision?
-Since this is a very fast- spreading virus, it poses a health risk for everyone. It’s even more challenging in situations where, beyond the physical contact between athletes, the social distance between everyone would be difficult to maintain, especially considering the Olympic Games is one of the largest events of the world.
I must point out that the most frequent complaint in this period for athletes was the lack of adequate training, that is, not being able to prepare for the Olympics. Transportation problems have arisen due to the restrictions imposed by both countries on the training grounds and competitions due to the corona outbreak. The cancellation of competitions in many countries was also a factor. One of the serious difficulties the athletes face is that the Olympic quota competitions are still not held due to the situation in many countries or by the decisions the international federations. Naturally, it is necessary to add to this situation the loss of motivation brought by the period we are in.
-Did you also consider the difficulties over doping controls due to outbreak restrictions?
-No, it was not brought to the agenda within the framework of this decision. Because, as I’ve mentioned, while workouts and competitions cannot be held the doping controls were not held already. For example, the World Archery Federation, which I’m chairing, postponed all competitions until June 30. Other federations have also announced their postponement calendars. Athletes could not get prepared for the Olympics because of this outbreak and the restrictions.
I see that the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics has been welcomed by the majority of athletes and I think they consider it a correct decision. The National Olympic Committees are already supporting this decision, which relieved the athletes.
-What kind of process will be followed now?
-After this decision, which should be taken quickly before the necessary infrastructure work is completed, a very detailed study will be done by both the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee by discussing with all stakeholders. In this sense, International Federations, National Olympic Committees, International Paralympic Committee, Olympic Games partners, Publishers are the first to come to mind. Many local issues will need to be evaluated in detail by the Organizing Committee and new solutions will be produced. Following those detailed studies, the IOC plans to come up with a new date for Olympic Games within 3 weeks.