Mon | Mar 30, 2020

Crunch talks - JAAA, NACAC hold key discussions aiding IOC consideration of Olympics postponement

Published:Monday | March 23, 2020 | 12:24 AMRachid Parchment/Assistant Sports Editor
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Persons wearing masks, mindful of the spread of the novel coronavirus, walk by the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday, March 4.
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Yohan Blake during a training session ahead of the start of the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar last September. Blake is one of many athletes around the world hoping for a berth at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. There are growing concerns about the hosting of the games amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) secretary general Garth Gayle has confirmed that correspondence has taken place with the region’s governing body, North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC), urging a postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer. These discussions echo those, apparently, of World Athletics president Lord Sebastian Coe because of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic to athletes worldwide.

This meeting between JAAA and NACAC preceded the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold talks with National Olympic Committees (NOC) over the next four weeks to consider postponing the Games because of the pandemic. A document obtained by The Gleaner that appears to be email correspondence between Coe and IOC president Thomas Bach yesterday, is likely to have influenced the latter’s decision to host these meetings. The document says that Coe had met with and heard the concerns of NACAC and other Area presidents, who all agreed that in the interest of athlete safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Games should be postponed.

While the JAAA would not get into detail about the discussions with NACAC, it says that talks regarded the level of interference by the novel coronavirus on athletes’ training and their ability to prepare for the Olympics.

“Presidents of the 32 NACAC countries had been asked to give their views,” Gayle said. “That has been forwarded by the president, Mr Mike Sands. Negotiations are still going on and the matter is at a delicate point. We are noting very carefully, in Jamaica, the pronouncements at the IOC and World Athletics level, and for us, it is always what’s best for our athletes. Our athletes need to be able to compete but also be able to compete in a safe environment. We anxiously await what will happen.”

LOOKING AT ALL SCENARIOS

When contacted, Jamaica Olympics Association president Christopher Samuda, also the head of the Jamaica Paralympics Association, declined to give detailed comment on the imminent meetings as he has not yet consulted local stakeholders. But he said that he understands that “the IOC will be looking at all scenarios, including postponement”.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the IOC said that consultation with Japanese public authorities and global sports officials would deal with “scenario planning” for the July 24 to August 9 Games.

“These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on July 24, 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games,” the Olympic body said in a statement, adding that “cancellation is not on the agenda”.

The change in strategy followed IOC president Thomas Bach leading a conference call with executive board members.

Bach has consistently said that organisers are fully committed to opening the games on July 24 despite athlete training, qualifying events, and Games preparations being disrupted more and more by the virus outbreak causing COVID-19.

Criticism of the stance grew in recent days from athletes and by an IOC member last Tuesday before Bach finally acknowledged that an alternative plan was possible.

“Of course, we are considering different scenarios,” Bach told the New York Times in an interview late Thursday. “There is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents,” the IOC said. “This led the [board] to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning.”

JAAA president Warren Blake also told The Gleaner on Thursday that he believes the postponement of the Olympics was only inevitable, given the rapid spread of the virus globally.

rachid.parchment@gleanerjm.com

Reasons listed in document:

1. “The issue of competition fairness. We can no longer expect a fair and level playing field in our sport given the number of athletes who are struggling to train in various countries due to measures put in place to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. If we lose the level playing field, then we lose the integrity of the competition.

2. “If athletes are unable to train properly, now we both know, as we have both been there, they will push themselves even harder closer to an Olympic Games, which will increase the propensity for injury, which will have serious effects on athletes next year and possibly longer.

3. “Every Area is witnessing the daily struggles athletes are going through having to choose, if they indeed have a choice of how and where to train, at what risk to their health and the health of their families and increasingly at the cost of their own well-being. The uncertainty of the Olympic Games happening in July and the inherent desire and motivation to excel that resides in all our athletes is causing real anguish that we can, collectively, put a stop to.”