Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Will Be Called Off For July If WHO Says They Should Be, Suggests IOC Boss Thomas Bach


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The International Olympic Committee will follow the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on whether to cancel or postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as a response to the containment and control measures required to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, IOC president  Thomas Bach has suggested.

As Australia prepared to become the latest nation to cancel national swimming championships and the Tokyo metropolitan government postponed the opening ceremony of the Olympic Aquatics Centre, Bach was invited time and time again to get  beyond the standard “Games will go on from July 24” mantra, in an interview with German television ARD. 

Eventually, the reporter changed tack and asked Bach “if the WHO recommends that you should not go ahead with the Games in July, will you call a halt?” Bach hesitated a touch before replying:

“We will follow the advice of the WHO.”

A relative tidal wave of postponements and cancellations of  Olympic trials and championships has hit swimming in the past few days. The Japan Swim Olympic trials for the host nation are die to take place at what was to have been a newly inaugurated Aquatics Centre on April 1-8. After the postponement of the pool’s opening ceremony today in Tokyo, Japanese swim fans took to social media to ask: are the trials on or off? An answer is expected next week at the latest, sources tell Swimming World.

Meanwhile, the consequences of lockdown policies far and wide present the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers will a dilemma even bigger than cancelled meets: even if the coronavirus is brought under sufficient control by July, the preparations of athletes will have been thrown so far off course for some that calls are already being made to postpone on grounds of fairness to all.

In the ARD interview, Bach acknowledged that there are “serious problems with qualification competitions” and said that the IOC and other relevant parties such as international federations and their members “will have to react very flexibly”. However, he made no mention of the fact that pools are closed in Scandinavia, Italy, Spain and athletes are being sent home from national training centres under Government mandate on public health grounds.

Swimming World January 2020 - A Voice For the Sport - Tokyo2020 skyline - Photo Courtesy Twitter Refugees Olympic-tokyo-olympicsBach said that countries hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, must be offered “fair qualification under these very difficult conditions”. That would not address the reality on the ground, in which leading swimmers cannot find adequate water space in some circumstances, while in others their access to their usual coaches and facilities has been limited or removed altogether.

In the early Olympic era, the structure of society and the nature of amateur sport delivered many uneven and unfair competition conditions. In today’s professional era, at a time when sport is big business (and very much so for the IOC), holding a Games when it is widely appreciated that athletes and programs have been knocked off course in uneven measure is a test Olympic bosses and Tokyo 2020 organisers have yet to acknowledge.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has also raised a parallel issue: it is monitoring international testing for “gaps”, in an attempt to ensure fairness for all, the pandemic having caused anti-doping missions to be cancelled in some places in the interest of public health and the well-being of testers, as well as athletes.

Japanese organisers have so far insisted that the pandemic will not derail the Games scheduled to run from July 24 to August 8, even if major sporting events, travel and financial markets are already seeing massive disruption worldwide.

When asked what he thought might happen to the Olympic Games in a week when the NBA, the NCAA, the Ivy League, USA Swimming and others called a halt to competitions, despite the obvious economic impact of doing so, U.S. President Donald Trump echoed the view of Tokyo 2020 executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi and the voices of ever-larger numbers in the sports community are suggesting, when he told reporters at the Oval Office:

“Maybe they postpone it for a year. You know, I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place. I think if you cancel it, make it a year later, that’s a better alternative than doing it with no crowd.”

Australia added its name to the wave of swimming cancellations and postponements today as it called off the Australian senior and age Championships. That followed, in the past 36 hours: the Spanish nationals and Olympic trials called off, the Danish Open and Olympic Trials, the Swim Open, Stockholm, the French Junior nationals all cancelled, as were the NCAA Championships; a 30-day suspension of events by USA Swimming; a Norwegian lockdown that cancelled sport; FINA postponements; Canada considering what to do about its Olympic trials; and cancellations and a plea from Italy to halt the Olympic Games to avoid Tokyo 2020 going ahead in July when many of the world’s best swimmers may no longer be in the kind of shape they would have been but for the pandemic and its knock-on effects.

An Extraordinary Moment In Swimming History:

And that followed this:

Guidance on Water and Coronavirus 


  1. Martin Levine

    Unfortunately with so many countries that have not experienced the brunt of the infection the risk of breakout of reinfection is too great. The Olympics will be one in a long list of cancellations.

  2. Luanne Zuniga Aakhus

    Most competitions to select team are off now… how will the teams be selected… how will they train???

  3. Bob Perkins

    Deferring the decision…
    IOC will defer to the WHO to make the difficult decision. Translation: games will be canceled.

    Hopefully they will move them to July 2021

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      I think you may have that right, Bob.

  4. David Harvey

    Just waiting to hear the official word. Have been expecting this one.

  5. Julia Webster

    Whilst I understand the necessity my heart goes out to the athletes who have trained so hard for the last 4 years. X

  6. Sarah Tyler

    The selection of team could be moved closer to the Olympics like the US swim team..their trials are the last week in june.
    Moving the olympics a year plays havoc with every athlete. A terrible thing to for them.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Sarah, you might be asking all of them to race at the tail end of what is forecast to be the peak of speed fo the virus… it could be the worst possible time… and then ask them all to race 4 weeks beyond that at an Olympic Games, the mortality rate making the headlines every day but the Olympic business as usual. I think that would go down like a lead balloon. Many athletes will have had months of disruption to planned routines; some no disruption at all; some will have family woes and sadness beyond that. And – Sport must think beyond its bubble right now and take account of the wider world. Safety first, Always. Think of Fran Crippen and every athlete you would be placing in the situation you suggest without any knowledge of what is coming in the weeks and months ahead. Postponing for a few months or even a year might well be the best and indeed only reasonable solution. The athletes are resilient but we should ask resilience of them in terms of the timing of their event, not in terms of the sorrow and mourning and the extreme disruption some are already facing and will face in the weeks and months ahead. Far worse to take them compete in completely unacceptable conditions and circumstances than wait a little and stage a safe, healthy, happy, crowd-filled-venue Games that celebrates everything the athletes have worked for.

  7. Adrienne Stacy

    I don’t think they should cancel. It will get better they should wait

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Yes, AS. Cancellation makes no sense… postponement does.