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Mounting Tokyo 2020 postponement calls put pressure on defiant Olympic chiefs

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An athlete carries the Olympic torch during one of the last relays ahead of the olympic flame handover ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, on March 19, 2020 in Athens. AFP

AFP – Pressure mounted on Olympic organisers to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games on Saturday after the powerful US track and field federation urged for this summer’s event to be pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

USA Track and Field became the latest influential sporting body to ask for the Games to be called off after its head Max Siegel “respectfully requested” in a letter that the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) “advocate … for the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo”.

USOPC had said it was too soon to axe the July 24-August 9 Games, much like International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Thomas Bach, who said that it would be “premature” to make such a big decision.

“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritise everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognise the toll this difficult situation has, and continues to take, on our athletes and their Olympic Games preparations,” wrote Siegel.

USATF joined a growing chorus of calls from sports organisations to push back the Olympics a day after the country’s swimming federation asked USOPC to back a postponement until 2021.

“We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes,” USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said in a letter.

That request for a delay was echoed on Saturday by France’s swimming federation which said that the Games could not be organised properly in the “current context”.

The Norwegian Olympic Committee (NOC) quickly followed, saying that it had sent a letter to the IOC on Friday motivated in part by a Norwegian government ban on organised sports activities which had created “a very challenging time for the sports movement in Norway”.

“Our clear recommendation is that the Olympic Games in Tokyo shall not take place before the COVID-19 situation is under firm control on a global scale,” the NOC said in the letter.

The new chairman of the United Kingdom’s athletics governing body also questioned the need to hold the Olympics this summer given the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, which has killed nearly 11,500 people worldwide.

“To leave it where it is is creating so much pressure in the system. It now has to be addressed,” head of UK Athletics Nic Coward told the BBC.

However, on Friday, Bach defended the IOC’s refusal to cancel the Olympics by saying that the Games were further away than other shelved events, such as football’s European Championship which was due to start in mid-June and was moved to 2021.

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