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Coronavirus outbreak: Olympics 2020 may get postponed, IOC and Japan’s PM share concerns while Canada, Australia pull out of the event

On Monday, the Secretary-General of the Indian Olympic Association, Rajeev Mehta said, "We will wait and watch for 4 to 5 weeks and then come to any decision after consultation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the sports ministry."

Olympics 2020 that is scheduled to commence from July 24 at Japan’s Tokyo, may be postponed in the wake of coronavirus outbreak. Cancelling the event is however not under consideration as it would destroy the “Olympic dream” of 11,000 players. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was earlier adamant on not “disrupting the schedule”, despite the fact that athlete training had been jeopardised due to the pandemic.

In a letter to the athletes, IOC President Thomas Bach wrote, “I know that this unprecedented situation leaves many of your questions open. I also know that this rational approach may not be in line with the emotions many of you have to go through.”

IOC’s Flip-Flop

The IOC then came under fierce criticism, from athletes and other National Olympic Committees. World Athletics President Seb Coe said that holding the Olympics 2020 games in July was neither desirable nor feasible. He added, “No one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but … we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety. “

Retracting from its previous stand, IOC said, “There is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents. This led the (board) to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning.”

Japan’s Reaction

On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who has been a long proponent of holding the Olympics in a ‘complete form’, however, conceded, “If it is difficult to hold the games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to (the health of the) athletes. Although the IOC will make a final decision (on the matter), we are of the same view that cancellation is not an option.”

He informed the Parliament that he had discussed the matter to Tokyo Games chief Yoshiro Mori on Sunday who then conveyed his concern’s to the IOC President, Thomas Bach. The transmission of COVID-19 has infected 1,055 people and claimed 37 deaths as of March 22.

The reaction of National Olympic Committees

On Sunday, the Canadian Olympic Committee informed IOC that it would not send its athletes to Olympics 2020 unless the games are postponed to the next year. It added that the outbreak of coronavirus has made it difficult for the sportspersons to continue training.

A joint statement by the Candian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee read, ” While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community. This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health.”

On Monday, the Australian Olympic Committee’s (AOC) executive board unanimously decided that it was unsafe to send its players to Tokyo for the upcoming Olympics 2020 Games. The committee said, “Our athletes now need to prioritise their own health and of those around them, and to be able to return to the families.”

The CEO of AOC, Matt Caroll was quoted as saying,” The athletes desperately want to go to the games, but they also take on board their own personal health.” He advised the athletes to prepare for the sporting event in 2021.

National Olympic committees in Slovenia and Brazil asked IOC to postpone the sporting event to 2021. The United States governing bodies of swimming and track have also pushed for a postponement. Norway announced that it would not send its athletes to Olympics 2020 Games until the coronavirus pandemic was under control.

India’s Stand

On Monday, the Secretary-General of the Indian Olympic Association, Rajeev Mehta said, “We will wait and watch for 4 to 5 weeks and then come to any decision after consultation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the sports ministry.” He added that the situation owing to the coronavirus outbreak was not as bad in India as it is in other countries.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had released a revised strategy to battle the spread of the contagion that has infected 415 people and claimed 7 lives in India. As per new guidelines announced by the ICMR on March 21, all the asymptomatic individuals who have undertaken international travel in the last 14 days are mandated to stay home quarantine for 14 days.

The new ICMR guidelines say that all asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of confirmed cases should get themselves tested once between day 5 and day 14 of coming in his/her contact. The revised guidelines also added that such individuals who have come from abroad should be tested for COVID-19 only if they develop symptoms for the novel coronavirus.

The new strategy includes testing of all symptomatic contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases as well as of symptomatic health-care workers. All hospitalised patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Illnesses, including cough and fever and/or shortness of breath, will be tested for the contagion.

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