Tokyo 2020 date 'now has to be addressed' - UK Athletics chair

By Dan Roan and Nick HopeBBC Sport
Nic Coward
Nic Coward, the former British Horseracing Authority chief executive, began working with UK Athletics in January

Nic Coward, the new chairman of UK Athletics, has suggested that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics should be postponed because of the coronavirus crisis.

It comes 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.

Coward told BBC Sport: "To leave it where it is is creating so much pressure in the system. It now has to be addressed."

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall, who is in Japan, said organisers are "nervous" and rates prospects of the Games beginning in July at "50-50".

Elsewhere, Norway and Slovenia's Olympic committees both urged to the IOC to postpone the Games until the pandemic is under control.

On Friday, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach told the New York Timesexternal-link "different scenarios" for Tokyo 2020 are now being considered for the first time.

Also on Friday, USA Swimming asked the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to request a delay to this summer's Games by 12 months.

In a letter seen by the BBC, its chief executive Tim Hinchey III says "pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer".

Hinchey called on USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland to speak with the IOC and "use its voice and speak up for the athletes".

This week, heptathlon world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson left her base in France, saying it was "impossible" to train and "keep the same routine" in light of the restrictions imposed following the coronavirus outbreak.

Many athletes preparing for the Olympic and Paralympic Games have had their training venues in the UK shut over the past week in response to new government guidelines about social distancing.

"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," said Coward.

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

Hall told BBC Sport he was impressed by the preparations Tokyo 2020 organisers have made and remains hopeful they can begin in July.

"They're obviously very nervous about the circumstances that are going on at the moment, but their preparations have been brilliant and the venues and athletes village are outstanding," he said.

"I expected everything to be a bit more frenetic, but they're in a calm space and if the Games goes ahead they will be ready.

"Things are changing so rapidly around the world and hopefully it will run, but it can't run at any cost and the health and safety of the athletes has to come first."

Athletes may 'risk their lives'

Four-time Olympic champion and BBC Sport pundit Michael Johnson fears athletes could "risk their lives" trying to train for Tokyo 2020 and called for clarity on the IOC's decision-making process.

"IOC should communicate the window for deciding on the '20 Olympics," tweeted the former US sprinter.external-link "Athletes must keep training but for many there's nowhere to train.

"They may risk their lives and others trying to continue training. Answer isn't just cancel ASAP. But communicate the process to the athletes."

Meanwhile, Glen Mills, long-time coach of eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt, has called on the IOC to postpone the Games until 2021

Mills, who also trains British sprinter Zharnel Hughes, said: "This would be unprecedented, but we are in unprecedented times.

"Move everything up one year and then everything will eventually fall back in place.

"I don't think that the Olympics will take place at the time that is specified [July and August] because the outbreak is worldwide and in some countries, it is just starting to accelerate."

Speaking on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, World Athletics president Lord Coe said it was too early for organisers to make a final decision about whether to continue with or delay the Games.

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 officials have previously indicated that they would make an announcement by May.

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