‘Already-qualified athletes will keep spots at 2021 Games’

Updated March 28, 2020

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TOKYO: Labourers work on Friday at a site near the Japan National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Olympics which have been postponed to 2021.—AFP
TOKYO: Labourers work on Friday at a site near the Japan National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Olympics which have been postponed to 2021.—AFP

TOKYO: All athletes who had qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will keep their spots for the Games next year following their postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Olympic Committee said on Friday.

The IOC and Japanese organisers postponed the July 24-August 9 event earlier this week but confirmed that those among the 11,000 athletes set to compete in Tokyo who had already earned their spot would keep it.

The IOC and 32 international sports federations held a teleconference on Thursday where it was decided to respect the qualification process.

The IOC also said that the amount of spots allocated for each sport at the Games would remain the same next year.

“The 57 per cent that are qualified do remain in place and the goal is to maintain the same athletes quotas across the different sports,” an IOC official said.

Many Olympic sports, such as boxing, saw the vast majority of their qualifying tournaments either interrupted or cancelled due to the global health situation. Others, such as sailing however, already had 90pc of their competitors qualified. Athletes have also been restricted in their training due to measures taken to stop the spread.

Though a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in the run-up to the Games, the decision to postpone was a relief to thousands of athletes fretting over training with the world heading into lockdown to fight a disease that has killed thousands of people.

The historic decision to delay the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic gave Tokyo a wide range of options when rescheduling: the Games will be held “beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021.”

This leaves open the possibility of a spring Olympics when the weather in Tokyo is at its finest and removes at a stroke the worries about athletes and fans suffering in the brutal heat and humidity of Japan’s summer.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike confirmed the postponement had opened up this tantalising option — that would also give her the opportunity of reclaiming the marathon which before the postponement was shifted to the northern city of Sapporo over heat fears.

“Since we are in this situation, one idea is to have [the IOC] move the date to a time that is not hot,” she told reporters on Friday.

She later added with a smile: “I think Tokyo would be good to host the marathon if temperatures were less fierce.”

IOC chief Thomas Bach himself has said rescheduling “is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table, before and including the summer of 2021”.

Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted a source saying that the IOC will set dates for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in about three weeks and it “may decide to hold the games in spring as requested by international sports federations to avoid the hottest weeks of the Tokyo summer”.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020