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AP photo by Jae C. Hong / A security guard walks past an Olympic rings display near the New National Stadium on Monday in Tokyo. The IOC said Sunday it will take up to four weeks to consider postponing the Tokyo Games, set to begin in late July, amid mounting criticism of its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

UPDATE: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Original column

If you believe longtime and long respected International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, the coronavirus outbreak will force the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to be postponed until 2021, if they haven't been already by the time you read this.

That's what he told USA Today on Monday, and that's surely what will eventually happen, hopefully sooner than later, though the IOC later challenged Pound's remarks, noting that "It's the right of every IOC member to interpret the decision of the IOC EB, which was announced yesterday."

Sunday's executive board meeting produced an announcement that the IOC would consider postponement but could take up to four weeks to make a decision. But Pound's native Canada isn't waiting on the IOC. Soon after the announcement, the Canadians said they would not send athletes to an Olympics held this year. Australia, Germany, Norway and Portugal have also called for the Games to be postponed.

And it would certainly seem the smart, sensible move for every nation on Earth, given the ongoing uncertainty regarding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which had killed more than 16,400 people worldwide as of Monday evening, that number now growing substantially by the day.

With the Olympics scheduled to start July 24 and run through Aug. 9, can there be any other responsible decision than to postpone them, if not cancel them altogether?

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AP file photo by Matt Slocum / USA Track & Field CEO Max Siegel is among those who would like for the United States to push the IOC to postpone the Summer Olympics scheduled to begin in late July in Japan.

Much as we all hope otherwise, we may not have organized sports anywhere by July 24, and that goes for Major League Baseball, professional golf and tennis, soccer, maybe even — brace yourselves now if you live in the Deep South — football practice.

As a friend emailed to me a few days ago, "If you told people that staying inside for 14 straight days would save the 2020 college football season, the entire South would be locked in their homes right now."

And perhaps that would be the best way to deal with all of this. A hard lockdown for 14 to 21 days. No contact with anyone unless it's for food or medical reasons. Maybe even that wouldn't end it, but it would surely help.

But given all this tragedy worldwide — the deaths, the pandemic, the current lack of a vaccine or medicine to heal the sick, the terrifying economic fallout, the understandable fear forming within us all — why didn't the United States beat Canada to the punch in withdrawing from the 2020 Games over the past weekend?

Why not lead the way in making a hugely responsible decision, no matter the colossal disappointment for all those world-class athletes in this country who've spent their young lives chasing the noble dream of winning an Olympic gold medal for the Red, White and Blue?

It's possible, of course, that by the time you read this, the United States will have done just that. It will withdraw from any Olympic Games that might be held in July with the understanding it will quite happily compete in an Olympics moved to 2021.

USA Track & Field called for such a move over the weekend, joining USA Swimming's earlier plea for a postponement.

Wrote USATF CEO Max Siegel to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee: "We acknowledge that there are no perfect answers, and that this is a very complex and difficult decision. But this position at least provides our athletes with the comfort of knowing that they will have adequate time to properly prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to participate in a safe and successful Olympic Games."

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AP photo by Jae C. Hong / A man walks near a countdown display for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics on Monday in Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has acknowledged a postponement of the crown jewel of the sporting world could be unavoidable, with some calling for the Games to be delayed until 2021.

It is a complex and difficult decision. No international sporting event, not even soccer's World Cup, is more politically charged than the Olympics. Japan has no doubt poured billions of dollars into these Games, hopeful to show the world it has recovered from the earthquakes, tsunami and failed nuclear reactors that have brought so much tragedy to the country over the past decade.

We're one of Japan's strongest allies. There is no doubt much concern within the USOPC that this must be handled with as much sensitivity as possible, as there should be.

But this is also about American lives. And not just those who compete, but those friends and families, especially those parents and grandparents, who also waited a good portion of their lives to watch these moments. There are also the spectators to consider.

As the Canadian Olympic Committee noted Sunday: "This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health."

Again, maybe by the time you read this the USOPC will have pulled the plug on the Tokyo Games. If not, maybe President Trump will intervene. Or Congress.

Heck, just Monday the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League soccer final was postponed indefinitely. Europe's elite club competition had been scheduled for May 30 at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. It may not be the Olympics, but the Champions League final is a pretty big deal across the pond.

In his letter to the USOPC, USATF's Siegel urged the organization "as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes."

It would have been nice for the United States to have been the world leader in speaking up for its athletes by withdrawing from the 2020 Games. But failing that, it still needs to walk away if the IOC won't postpone.

If we can't be first, we can at least be right.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

 

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