Despite widespread pressure to advocate for a postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland has decided against taking a stand.
Hirshland told the Associated Press on Sunday she does not plan to call for an Olympic postponement.
“My role is not to make demands of those making decisions, but to bring forward solutions,” Hirshland said.
Hirshland’s comment comes after International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach conceded that an Olympic postponement is a possibility. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe echoed that message in parliament on Monday morning, acknowledging the possibility for the first time.
Any decision on postponing the Olympics would reportedly come within the next four weeks.
Hirshland had initially released a statement in response to the news saying she and USOC Athletes' Advisory Council were “eager” to pursue alternatives for the Games:
Every day counts. We remain steadfast in our recommendation that Team USA athletes continue to heed the advice of public health officials and prioritize their health and wellness over all else. At the same time we are eager to continue to explore alternatives to ensure all athletes have a robust and fulfilling Olympic and Paralympic experience, regardless of when that can safely occur. Together we will find solutions that keep the spirit of the Games alive.”
USA Swimming and USA Track Field want a coronavirus postponement
A refusal to make demands lands Hirshland in opposition to USA Swimming and USA Track & Field, which combined to account for more than half of the country’s gold medals and total medals at the 2016 Olympics.
The swimming federation released a statement on Friday that cited, among other reasons, its athletes’ inability to properly train for the Tokyo Games as the country combats the coronavirus outbreak:
As this global pandemic has grown, we have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down and watched them struggle to find ways to continue to prepare and train – many for the biggest competitive opportunity of their lives.
USA Track & Field followed a day later with a similar statement:
“While our world class athletes are willing to push themselves to their athletic limits in pursuit of Olympic success, the likelihood that they will be able to properly train in a safe and adequate environment and replicate the excellence that we have all come to expect does not appear likely in the midst of this global crisis.”
Additionally, a reported 70 percent of the 125 U.S. athletes — some of whom are already struggling to find places to train — said they were in favor of postponing the games while participating in a USOC virtual town hall.
Coronavirus: Canada says it won’t send team to Tokyo without postponement
The same day Hirshland released her statement, her neighbors to the North took a different tactic.
The Canadian team announced that it will not send a team to the Olympics in 2020 and called for a postponement of the Games amid the pandemic.
RELEASE: The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee have made the difficult decision to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020: https://t.co/HyOBA5wwp4 pic.twitter.com/x9OWABVxMA— Team Canada PR (@TeamCanadaPR) March 23, 2020
The measure makes Canada the first country to publicly pull out of the games due to coronavirus.
Minutes afterward, Australia’s Olympic team followed suit by announcing it was planning for a Games in 2021.
“We are now in a position where we can plan with greater certainty.”— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) March 23, 2020
AOC plans for postponed Olympic Games 👉 https://t.co/7YYRMp4xMI#Tokyo2020 #covid19australia #TokyoTogether pic.twitter.com/oPW6nXGdZk
You would imagine a similar announcement from the U.S. would have seismic effects on the IOC’s decision-making, which holds a $7.75 billion contract with NBC to broadcast the Games in the U.S. alone.
The Olympics’ choice with coronavirus is painful — and painfully obvious
Even if coronavirus cases start dropping between now and July, holding the Olympics as planned is a perfect way to extend the outbreak.
Thousands of athletes and millions of people from all over the globe converging on a famously packed city for two weeks would put every country that participates at risk of further exposure to the virus, and that would lead to even more people dying.
According to Lawrence Gostin, the director of the World Health Organization’s Center on Public Health & Human Rights, doing so would be “utterly irresponsible.”
I'm being asked if Tokyo Olympics should (will) go ahead. The IOC makes the call but will rely on @WHO. It would be utterly irresponsible to hold the Olympics. Why? I was an ardent supporter of holding the Brazil Olympics despite Zika, but #COVID19 is a once in a century pandemic pic.twitter.com/EXM8Mn5z1H— Lawrence Gostin (@LawrenceGostin) March 22, 2020
The IOC has to know this. Abe has to know this. And Hirshland has to know this.
She has undoubtedly seen the effects this global pandemic has had on this country. The sports world going on hiatus, business after business shutting down, state and local leaders pleading for more help in testing and treating the sick. She has the two biggest federations under her clamoring for a postponement, not to mention a majority of her own athletes.
If the Olympics were to go on as scheduled, every athlete would have to train in complete solitude. Many of them would still probably be exposed to the virus at some point, and might still be recovering from it. There would be no way to know other countries are following the same standards. It’s unclear how qualifiers would work when nearly every event for the next month has been suspended.
If Hirshland doesn’t think all of that is enough reason to take a stand against a notoriously greedy organization — even to just make a simple request — how can any athlete trust her to be an effective leader in the future?
Hirshland said she wants to “bring forward solutions” in working with the IOC. The only remaining solution has been obvious for days, and delaying it will help absolutely no one.
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