Tokyo Olympics 2020: Calls to postpone Games increase amid coronavirus fears

Calls for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to be postponed are growing, due to fears around the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Saturday (NZ time), USA Swimming chief executive Tim Hinchey asked the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to request a delay to the Games by 12 months, while the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (NIF) want the tournament put on hold until the coronavirus situation is under firm control on a global scale.

UK Athletics chairman Nic Coward has also suggested that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics should be postponed.

Their pleas come amid the cancellation of key qualifying events and mounting athlete criticism of the organisers' stance to press ahead with plans to stage the event, which is due to run from 24 July to 9 August.

Earlier this week, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach maintained the Olympics would go ahead as scheduled on July 24, while World Athletics president Lord Sebastian Coe said it was too early to make a decision. 

The outbreak has infected more than 250,000 people and killed more than 10,000, bringing global sport to a virtual standstill.

"We have watched our athletes' worlds be turned upside down," said Hinchey.

"The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritise everyone's health and safety, and appropriately recognise the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations."

NIF president Berit Kjøll and secretary-general Karen Kvalevåg both wrote to Bach, saying it was "neither justifiable nor desirable to send Norwegian athletes to the Olympics or Paralympics in Tokyo until 2020 before the world community has put this pandemic behind them".

Norway is one of the worst-affected countries in Europe with cases. In the Scandinavian country, locals face being fined or jail time, if they're caught breaking home quarantine or home isolation rules.

"We would appreciate it if the IOC could give us insight on the central milestones in the process leading up to the final decision on Tokyo 2020," their letter read. 

"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."

Coward said athletes were under immense pressure, with training facilities currently closed.

"Facility operators are making understandable decisions to close facilities on which our athletes rely to get themselves ready for the biggest test of their careers and their sporting lives," Coward told the BBC. 

"The intensity of pressure on people right now is too great and decisions have to be made soon."

Meanwhile, Australia basketball star Andrew Bogut has declared he won't compete at the Olympics either, as he doesn't want to jeopardise his family's health. 

"We know the IOC loves money, and they're not going to try and lose any," Bogut said. "We know Japan's built some world-class facilities and want to recoup their investment.

"But what's going on in the rest of the world, you can't see it going ahead. If they do, maybe they postpone it."

USA Swimming chief executive Tim Hinchey and Chairman of UK Athletics Nic Coward
USA Swimming chief executive Tim Hinchey and Chairman of UK Athletics Nic Coward

This week, IOC Athletes' Commission member and four-time Olympic ice hockey gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser tweeted that the IOC's insistence on forging ahead was "irresponsible".

Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi echoed Wickenheiser's comments, accusing the IOC of leaving athletes "at-risk".

British world champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson said she felt "under pressure", after lockdown laws made maintaining her training routine "impossible". 

British four-time Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent criticised Bach's comments, calling for the Games to be called off. 

"I'm sorry, Mr Bach, but this is tone-deaf," Pinsent tweeted. "The instinct to keep safe is not compatible with athlete training, travel and focus that a looming Olympics demands of athletes, spectators and organisers. 

"Keep them safe. Call it off."