The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee on Monday called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Tokyo Games, a move that leaves the international governing body little choice but to do so.
In a joint statement, USOPC board chair Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland cited the wishes of U.S. athletes. A survey was sent to roughly 4,000 athletes over the weekend and, of the 45% who responded, nearly 65% said their ability to train has been severely impacted or they are unable to train at all because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Asked if they thought the Games could be “conducted on a fair playing field if they continue as scheduled,” 68% said no.
“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” Lyons and Hirshland said.
“To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”
The move comes hours after longtime IOC member Dick Pound told USA TODAY Sports that the Games would be postponed. The IOC had said Sunday it would make a decision within the next four weeks, but it has made no official announcement.
Canada had said Sunday night it would not send a team to Tokyo if the Games were held this summer, while Australia said shortly after that it will now prepare for 2021. Other nations, including Germany, Norway and Brazil, have asked the IOC to delay the Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the United States adding its voice to the chorus is a game-changer.
The Americans send more athletes to the Games than any other country. NBC pays more in rights fees than any other broadcasters. American companies Coca-Cola and Visa are the Games’ most prominent and loyal sponsors.
The United States also has hosted more Games than any other country – eight – and will host the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. It also has said it will bid to bring another Winter Games to Salt Lake City.
The USOPC decision is an about-face from Friday, when Lyons and Hirshland said a decision did not need to be made right away since the Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics isn’t until July 24. But they were forced to reconsider after U.S. athletes were among the most vocal in saying the Games should be postponed.
USA Swimming sent a letter to the USOPC on Friday afternoon, asking that the Games be postponed, and USA Track & Field made a similar plea Saturday. Earlier Monday, USA Gymnastics said it, too, would ask for a postponement.
Much of the United States is on lockdown because of COVID-19, leaving many U.S. athletes unable to train. Universities and colleges shuttered athletic facilities two weeks ago, and public gyms in many states are now closed.
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training centers in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Lake Placid, N.Y., also have closed their doors.
Athletes have expressed fears they’re putting their own health and safety at risk, as well as that of people in their community, by continuing to try and train. They’ve also questioned the wisdom of trying to stage a large international event when much of the world remains gripped in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We regret that there is no outcome that can solve all the concerns we face,” Lyons and Hirshland said.