UPDATE: "The Games can't be held in July": AOC tells athletes to prepare for postponed Olympics

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by Beth Newman

UPDATE: The Australian Olympic Committee is advising athletes to prepare for a 2021 Olympic Games while Canada has become the first country to boycott the Games should they go ahead as scheduled.

Overnight, the International Olympic Committee put postponement on the table for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began and that quickly sparked reactions from a host of participating nations.

The AOC released a statement on Monday afternoon saying that the national body was advising its athletes to prepare for the Games to go ahead in 2021, a year later than planned.

In that statement, the AOC said an Australian team could not be assembled were the games to go ahead as scheduled on July 24.

Australian chef de mission Ian Chesterman said a tipping point had come for the team when it came to welfare versus preparing for the Olympics.

Australian chef de mission Ian Chesterman says the games can't be held in July. Photo: Getty Images“It’s clear the Games can’t be held in July. Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty has been extremely challenging for them," he said.

“They have also shouldered the burden of concern for their peers around the world. That has been a consistent message to me.”

“While there will still be much to work out as a result of this change, the timing will allow athletes from around the world to properly prepare with the hope the coronavirus crisis will be under control.

“We are aware that for many such a postponement will present a range of new issues. But when the world does come together at the Tokyo Olympic Games they can be a true celebration of sport and humanity.”

Only four days ago, AOC CEO Carroll all but ruled out the option of a postponement, and though the ultimate decision rests with the IOC, the about turn around the world underlines the ever-changing nature of COVID-19 fears.

"We’re in times which are hardly certain and we have to provide certainty to our athletes and our sports," AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said on Monday.

"Last Thursday was a different set of circumstances to when standing here today.

"Over the weekend there’s been dramatic change in our own country and across the world. The IOC said that last week as well, I did say, that things could change. Well, things have changed and you must address those changes."

Speaking to media on Monday afternoon, Carroll said they felt the need to provide clarity to athletes and everyone involved with the Australian team.

"I think what’s most important is it gives certainty," he said.

"It gives certainty to our athletes, it gives certainty to our sports and that’s the most important thing and that’s what they needed because the feedback we received over the weekend, particularly after the announcements by the government particularly with what’s happening around the world, potential outbreaks in Africa and other places, we need to give our athletes that certainty."

Carroll said postponement would not be a simple exercise but given the situation, it was shaping as the best option.

"It remains difficult," he said

"That's why their (the IOC's) decision, they’ll come back to us within the month.

"Moving the world’s biggest sporting event, it involves so many people, so many events, not just athletes but the world’s media, sponsors is not easy to do.

"It remains challenging but the IOC decided they have to look at it as well."

Carroll said that athletes had expressed their desire to go to the Games even in recent days but were concerned about the lack of opportunity being afforded to their international counterparts, many of whom are living in lockdown as coronavirus takes hold.

AOC CEO Matt Carroll speaks to media about COVID-19 and the Olympics. Photo: Getty Images"We have athletes based overseas, training at central locations around Australia as teams and managing their own programs. With travel and other restrictions this becomes an untenable situation," he said.

"The IOC had adopted the key principles of putting athlete health first and ensuring it acted in their best interests and the interests of sport. This decision reflects those principles."

A postponement of the Games would likely push them back a year to 2021, rather than any possibility of them going ahead later in 2020.

Australia's statement follows Canada's bombshell announcement that they would boycott the Games if they continued to go ahead as planned.

"The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), backed by their Athletes’ Commissions, National Sports Organizations and the Government of Canada, have made the difficult decision to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020," their statement read.

"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. While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community."

A number of high profile administrators had urged the IOC to consider postponement in recent days as athletes around the globe try to continue training despite lockdown protocols being introduced in a number of countries.

Australia's women's Sevens coach John Manenti said last week that it would be miraculous if Tokyo 2020 went ahead as planned.

Monday's news is a huge about turn by the global sporting community and the IOC, who were long maintaining that the Games would either proceed as planned or potentially be cancelled altogether.

EARLIER

Tokyo Stadium is set to be the venue for the Olympics Sevens. Photo: Getty ImagesTokyo organisers had been adamant that the Games would go on as scheduled but in a statement overnight, the IOC said they would be looking into planning for a wide range of scenarios.

Cancellation, the statement said, was still not considered an option for the Tokyo Olympics, set to begin on July 24.

The rapid growth of COVID 19 cases and the introduction of a range of travel bans around the world, including in Australia, have forced the IOC's hand when it came to considering changing some Olympic plans.

Australia's Prime Minister confirmed on Sunday night that Olympians would be under the same travel restrictions as the rest of the country, meaning they would not be allowed to travel if the current restrictions remain in place for the coming months.

The IOC is expected to have a final decision in the next month, which would still give them three months until the Games are scheduled to begin.

"The IOC will, in full coordination and partnership with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, start detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement," Sunday's statement read.

"The IOC is confident that it will have finalised these discussions within the next four weeks, and greatly appreciates the solidarity and partnership of the NOCs and IFs in supporting the athletes and adapting Games planning."

IOC President Thomas Bach said the welfare of people around the world was the primary consideration in any decision.

“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games," he said.

"The IOC wants to be part of the solution.

"Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus.

"I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, NOCs and IFs from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.”