Irish chiefs toe IOC line but Games set for delay

Irish Olympic chiefs have opted against pulling their athletes from the Olympics, should it proceed as planned, but there was a resigned acceptance in their utterances yesterday that a Games due to take place in Japan’s searing summer heat will be placed in cold storage.
Irish chiefs toe IOC line but Games set for delay

Racewalkers David Kenny and Brendan Boyce with coach Rob Heffernan, centre, during a training session at Cork’s Fota Island yesterday. 	Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Racewalkers David Kenny and Brendan Boyce with coach Rob Heffernan, centre, during a training session at Cork’s Fota Island yesterday. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Irish Olympic chiefs have opted against pulling their athletes from the Olympics, should it proceed as planned, but there was a resigned acceptance in their utterances yesterday that a Games due to take place in Japan’s searing summer heat will be placed in cold storage.

Canada became the first country to declare their intention not to participate in Tokyo should the July 24 start be reaffirmed.

Australia’s Olympic chiefs have advised their athletes to reposition their sights for a Games some time in 2021 instead.

There is a lot to be said for such definitive action.

There is a growing frustration among athletes around the world at the uncertainty engulfing them.

Sporting calendars have been erased, qualification pathways torn up, and painfully constructed training schedules all but dismantled by the coronavirus and its effects.

Athletes in Canada and Australia can, at the very least now, stand down and press the reset button.

For everyone else, including Ireland’s potential representatives, the only game in town continues to be the waiting game and no one wants to keep playing that.

The International Olympic Council (IOC) and the Tokyo organising committee had both resisted calls to even contemplate a postponement for a number of weeks, but the mounting numbers of coronavirus patients and deaths worldwide did eventually prompt a rethink.

The IOC announced over the weekend that they would make a decision on when to get the Games under way within another four weeks.

Contingency plans are finally being drawn up and even the Japanese prime minister now accepts that it may be a case of later rather than soon.

Veteran International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA Today Sports last night that the Games will be postponed.

“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in a phone interview.

“The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Whatever happens, IOC president Thomas Bach has insisted cancellation is not an option.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland’s (OFI) stance for now is to follow whatever lead their parent body eventually takes.

OFI chief executive Peter Sherrard explained as much when he appeared on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland yesterday.

“I’d be more comfortable leaving that with the international body because it’s a huge decision,” Sherrard explained.

“We will be engaging with our athletes to get their views and that’s something that we’d be very conscious of.”

Sherrard did follow that up with the observation that the XXXII Olympiad is “likely to be postponed” and a statement from his organisation later in the day included a similar take from the team chef de mission, Patricia Heberle.

The Olympics has never slipped from its berth in peacetime.

It is a monstrous undertaking with a web of stakeholders so it’s not hard to understand why organisers were so reluctant to even contemplate a delay for so long despite all the mounting evidence.

Japan is estimated to have spent over $12bn (€11.1bn) on an event that will bring together 11,000 athletes across 33 sports from over 200 countries.

Restitching each of those threads and all the others will make for a painstaking process.

For athletes, however, this wait for a decision everyone knows is coming is unnerving.

Among those calling for swift action by the Olympic chiefs and a new date to aim for, likely in 2021, are the Irish pair of boxer Kellie Harrington and walker Brendan Boyce, whose opinions will be among those solicited by the OFI over the coming days.

Boyce came straight to the point on Twitter yesterday.

“Thomas Bach, here is the statement you are looking for: Due to the continuing global escalation of COVID-19 & global travel restrictions it is now untenable to continue with Tokyo 2020 as planned but it will take time for us to decide on the next best option for postponement.”

Simple and straight to the point, it makes sense.

The IOC has asked each of its national units to ascertain the views of its members on their current sporting “environment”, any training restrictions being experienced, their mood and concerns, as well as their thoughts on halting all training sessions here and now.

“We have heard the latest update from the IOC regarding the Games, and we await in due course further information from them,” OFI president Sarah Keane said in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

“However, we need to consider what’s right for our athletes, coaches, federations, and all involved in supporting the system in Ireland at this time.

"This does include considering if our potential Olympians can and/or should continue to engage in organised training for the foreseeable future.

“This may go against the grain of what they are used to doing day in day out, however at this time all options must be considered which we will do in conjunction with our Member Federations, athletes, Sport Ireland and other stakeholders.”

Others have already come to conclusions on all of this.

The Global Athlete body has been heavily critical of the IOC’s delay in making the only real decision remaining to them.

It has described the lack of leadership as “unacceptable and irresponsible” and accused it of ignoring athletes’ rights.

Canada’s Olympic committee has made the same point in softer tones, pointing out that this is not just a question of athletes’ health but “public health”.

US Track and Field and UK Athletics are others among the growing chorus asking to draw a line through any event this summer.

Moving the Games would inevitably cause a ripple effect further down the line but Uefa have already grasped a similar straw by deciding that Euro 2020, due to be held across 12 countries this summer, should be put back 12 months.

Shifting the Olympics to 2021 has already been made less of an issue by the announcement from World Athletics that they were prepared to alter their world championship’s place in the calendar to accommodate these exceptional circumstances.

The Worlds are due to be held in Oregon in the US next August but the athletics body has said it “stands ready” to work with the IOC and the rest of the sports community and that their own organising committee is open to alternative dates.

More in this section

ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub


Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.234 s