Coronavirus: NZ Olympians support Tokyo Games postponement

NZ Olympic athletes have backed the painful decision to postpone the Tokyo Games, scheduled for July/August, 12 months, while the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.

As the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organisers held out hope for as long as possible against mounting pressure, the NZ Olympic Committee polled its potential team members on the issue and received a resounding response.

"New Zealand athletes were surveyed yesterday and told us they were ready to support this extremely tough decision," said NZOC chief executive Kereyn Smith.  

"We know they are adaptable and resilient, and they understand that this decision is necessary to ensure a fair field of play, and protect the health of both athletes and the wider global.
"We will immediately contact and offer support to athletes. We will also work through plans with our performance partners HPSNZ and the New Zealand sporting bodies."

Smith told The AM Show that the delay took no-one by surprise.

Kereyn Smith announce the NZ Olympic sailing team
Kereyn Smith announce the NZ Olympic sailing team. Photo credit: Photosport

"What has been remarkable is the speed of these events," she said. "I was talking to you two weeks ago, when we were announcing our first athletes for the Olympic team and here we are now, talking about postponing them.

"The Olympic Games is essentially like running 32 world championships at one time and one city - 11,000 athletes, 25,000 media and all the spectators - so it's not easy to find another window where you can put those arrangements in place."

The NZOC had begun the process of announcing athlete selections for Tokyo, but had only named a seven-strong sailing contingent, headed by Olympic 49er champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, along with slalom paddlers Luuka Jones and Callum Gilbert.

But many others have been impeded in their efforts to qualify, with key events being cancelled, as the pandemic gripped the world.

"For them, I'm imagining it's the weirdest of times," said Smith. "They've been hugely disrupted in their plans and now, just a few months out from when they were going to be best of the best on the world stage, to hear it delayed for 9-12 months is going to take some refocussing from them." 

Some veteran performers may now retire, rather than hang on another year, while others may need to requalify - those details need to be worked through in coming months.

"I'm sure it will have a significant affect on some of the more senior athletes, although they're seasoned and know what it takes to peak," said Smith. "It might be a foreseeable distance."

But she warned the delay might have financial implications on athletes, who relied on high performance grants and sponsorship to support their preparations.

Meanwhile, NZ Paralympics has echoed its Olympic counterpart.

"We know that para athletes will see IOC’s decision as one that provides certainty, and in the future, will provide a safe and fair playing field to train and compete in," said chief executive Fiona Allan.

"The Paralympic movement is built on resilience and determination, and we know para athletes will draw upon this at this time."