Olympic test event deferred: reports

TOKYO • The first Tokyo Olympics test event of this year will be postponed due to travel restrictions as a result of Japan’s second state of emergency, media reports said yesterday.

The artistic swimming event – which will double as the sport’s final qualifier for the Games, and is set to feature around 10 countries – was scheduled to be held at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre from March 4-7.

It could now be held in April or May, according to Japanese media outlets citing sources close to the matter.

The International Swimming Federation (Fina) and Japan Swimming Federation (JASF) have determined travel restrictions on foreign nationals coming into Japan would make the event too difficult to organise, the reports said.

Under the state of emergency regulations – which is set to last until Sunday next week although reports suggest it will be extended until at least the end of next month – exemptions allowing foreign athletes to train in the country have been halted, with the borders all but closed to visitors.

Fina and JASF did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Tokyo 2020 organisers said they would not address “rumours”.

The artistic swimming event was set to be the first test event to be held with Covid-19 countermeasures in place.

Meanwhile, the longest-serving International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound has said he wants to examine the reasons behind the Japanese public’s concerns about hosting the Games this year after recent polls showed around 80 per cent of respondents opposed the plan.

Tokyo 2020 organisers and the Japanese government have vowed to forge ahead with preparations for the delayed Games, which are set to run from July 23 to Aug 8.

“I know there are those in Japan who question holding the event,” the Canadian told the Asahi daily yesterday. “Together, I would like to scrutinise the reasons and respond. Are they are worried about a large number athletes and others from overseas spreading the coronavirus? Are they against the cost? Or maybe there are people who just don’t like the Olympics.”

He also appealed for locals to take the feelings of athletes into consideration, noting they had put in many years of work in order to step onto sport’s biggest stage.

He said the decision on whether the Games will go ahead must be made by May at the latest and stressed that another delay was not possible.

“Personally, I think it’s possible to hold the Games this summer,” Pound added. “Several vaccines have been developed and people in the world are being vaccinated.”

But according to Tokyo organising committee member Haruyuki Takahashi, the fate of the Games is more dependent on the United States and its President Joe Biden, and not the will of the IOC.

The US brings the largest contingent of athletes to any Olympics and also provides the IOC with its most lucrative television deal, but is also the most-affected country in the world by the virus.

“Mr Biden is dealing with a tough situation with the coronavirus,” Takahashi told the Wall Street Journal yesterday. “But if he makes a positive statement about the Olympics going ahead, we’d gain strong momentum.

“It’s up to the US. I hate to say it, but (IOC president) Thomas Bach and the IOC are not the ones who are able to make the decision about the Games. They don’t have that level of leadership.”

While Mr Biden has not spoken publicly about the Olympics since becoming president last week, the IOC told the WSJ that Takahashi’s comments were “obsolete”.

“It is regrettable that Mr Takahashi does not know the facts,” a statement read. “First, it is USOPC (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee) that decides about the US Olympic and Paralympic team. Second, USOPC has never left a doubt about their participation.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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