Sebastian Coe, who played a pivotal role in securing the Olympics for London in 2012, said postponing the Games until 2021 could present problems. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
World athletics chief Sebastian Coe admitted on Thursday that the Tokyo Olympics could be moved to later in the year by the coronavirus outbreak, but said it was too early to make a definitive decision. Olympic bosses acknowledged on Wednesday there was no "ideal" solution as a growing number of athletes expressed concern. The COVID-19 pandemic is playing havoc with the global sporting calendar, forcing the postponement of Euro 2020 and a suspension of the tennis season. International Olympic Committee chairman Thomas Bach said earlier this week that starting on schedule on July 24 remained the organisation's goal. But Coe, who is a member of the Tokyo Olympics Games Coordination Commission, conceded in an interview with the BBC that a delay was possible. "That is possible, anything is possible at the moment," said Coe when asked whether the Games could be postponed to September or October.
"But I think the position that sport has certainly taken, and it was certainly the temperature of the room in the conversation I had the other day with the IOC and our other federations, is that nobody is saying we will be going to the Games come what may. But it isn't a decision that has to be made at this moment." Coe, who played a pivotal role in securing the Olympics for London in 2012, said postponing the Games until 2021 could present problems.
"That seems on the surface of it an easy proposition, but member federations actually avoid Olympic years often to have their world championships," he said. Britain's retired four-time rowing Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent called for decisive action. "On a global front we have other priorities and I think the Olympics should at the very least be saying we should postpone or indeed just cancel at this stage and we'll talk about postponement later on," he told the BBC. "I just don't think there's much of a choice at this stage."
Greece on Thursday handed over the Olympic flame to Tokyo 2020 organisers at a ceremony held behind closed doors amid calls for the Olympics to be postponed over the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of spectators, Olympic gymnastics champion Lefteris Petrounias ran a lap with the flame and Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi lit a cauldron inside the all-marble Panathenaic stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. The flame was then handed to Tokyo 2020 representative Naoko Imoto, a swimmer who competed in the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. Imoto, a UNICEF representative, was reportedly a last-minute appointment as she already lives in Greece and did not have to travel from Japan.
The flame lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia was also carried out without spectators. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in a statement said the ancient Olympic values of "concord, goodwill, brotherhood... are the weapon to use" against the virus.
Last week's flame lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia was also carried out without spectators as Greece registered its first death from the virus. "Regretfully the COVID-19 outbreak made us take hard decisions and change our initial plans. We deeply regret that you... were not able to travel to Greece and join us here today," Greek Olympic Committee chairman Spyros Kapralos said, addressing Tokyo organisers absent from Thursday's ceremony.
Authorities decided to cancel the torch relay's Greek leg after a crowd mobbed Hollywood actor Gerard Butler at a cauldron lighting ceremony in Sparta last week. COVID-19 has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and caused over 8,000 deaths across 150 countries and territories. There are five confirmed deaths in Greece. A sixth death was reported on Thursday. Most major sporting events across the world have been rescheduled or scrapped as a result of the pandemic, and doubts are increasingly being expressed about holding the Olympics in its current slot.
But the International Olympic Committee says it is "fully committed" to holding the Games from July 24 as scheduled. Top athletes have warned that their training regimes have already been impaired by the pandemic, and that they would be taking health risks should the Games go ahead. Pole vault champion Stefanidi is among prominent athletes to have voiced concern at the IOC's insistence on holding the Games. "The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day?" she tweeted this week. "You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months."