The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Paralympic Committee (CPC) said on Sunday that Team Canada will not participate in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020 due to concerns about the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Opposition to holding the Games in July has risen sharply in the past 48 hours, with several major stakeholders such as U.S. Track and Field and UK Athletics, along with several national Olympic committees, calling for a delay because of the pandemic.
More than 13,000 people have died globally since the coronavirus outbreak began.
“The COC and CPC urgently call on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to postpone the Games for one year and we offer them our full support in helping navigate all the complexities that rescheduling the Games will bring,” the committees said in a statement.
“While we recognise the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” it added.
The organising committee for the Olympics and Paralympics will be holding a news conference in Tokyo later on Monday.
On Sunday the IOC said it would hold discussions that would include an option of putting back the July 24 start date or even moving the Games by a year or more due to the global coronavirus outbreak, but said cancelling the Games would not solve problems or help anybody.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the IOC’s statement by telling parliament on Monday that postponing the Olympics may become an option if holding the Games in its “complete form” became impossible.
“If that becomes difficult, we may have no option but to consider postponing the Games, given the Olympic principle of putting the health of athletes first,” he said.
Abe also said calling off the Games entirely was not an option, echoing the IOC position in its statement that cancellation “was not on the agenda”.
While Canada is the first country to say it will not send a delegation to compete in the summer of 2020, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said on Monday its athletes should prepare for a Tokyo Games taking place in 2021.
“The AOC believes our athletes now need to prioritise their own health and of those around them, and to be able to return to the families, in discussion with their National Federations,” the AOC said in a statement.
Canada’s Olympic Committee said it reviewed the IOC’s assessment of the situation and applauded it for recognising the need to consider alternate scenarios for hosting the Games.
“We are thankful to the IOC for its assurance that it will not be cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Games and appreciative that it understands the importance of accelerating its decision-making regarding a possible postponement,” it said.
“We also applaud the IOC for acknowledging that safeguarding the health and wellness of nations and containing the virus must be our paramount concern.
“We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport.”
Canada’s boycott will add to growing pressure on the IOC to alter the schedule after criticism from a slew of current and former athletes with health concerns.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which has been supportive of the IOC’s wait-and-see position, expressed a different tone to the latest update, saying in a statement it welcomed some clarity but did little to address growing uncertainty and athlete anxiety.
“The progress reflected in today’s IOC update to the global athlete community is an important step in providing clarity, but our athlete community continues to face enormous ambiguity surrounding the 2020 Games in Tokyo,” said USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland and USOPC athletes advisory council chair Han Xiao in a joint statement.
The Olympics have never been postponed or cancelled during peacetime but the IOC’s decision to even consider postponement was met with relief from several major stakeholders, including World Athletics, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and major national Olympic committees.