On Friday morning, USOPC executives held a media call-in following a two-day Board of Directors meeting. The call addressed several issues, but as expected focused primarily on the implications of COVID-19 on preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, which open on July 24.
Notably, the rowing events start on the morning of July 24, hours before even the opening ceremony, so are among the very first events to get underway.
Update: At present, only 57% of all possible competing athletes have qualified.
The USOPC executives described efforts to work with NGBs about qualification events, training opportunities, offered mental health support, and perhaps most critically, stated that it is not advocating for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics at this time.
row2k was on the call, and came away with the following as the most salient points made by the USOPC as regards making a decision on the Games:
- The athlete population has people in all different stages of their careers, and someone who is definitely priming for their last Olympics due to age or other reasons would want to wait a little bit
- Athletes not facing a last chance at the Olympics can feasibly wait for a short time without significant damage to their prospects as athletes as well as in 'real life'
These make a lot of sense, although the more powerful question for me is whether athletes will be able to train satisfactorily at this point, as well as in the coming days and weeks; in the US, it would appear that training opportunities will constrict, not expand.
The two USOPC training centers have stayed open as room and board locations for resident athletes who live there, but all training facilities are closed.
The USOPC also declined to set a timeline on making a decision or on initiating calls for the IOC to make a decision, so little relief to the overall uncertainty was on offer.
Concurrently, USA Swimming called on the USOPC to use their influence in the Olympic movement to call for a one-year postponement of the Games: Letter from USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey to USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland.
The USOPC reiterated what had been said in the call, saying in a statement that the IOC believes "that it is premature to make a final call on the date of the Games and we believe that we should afford them the opportunity to gather more data and expert advice before insisting that a decision be made."
Read the full statement here, which offers a fairly concise restatement of the USOPC's overall position as expressed in the call: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee leadership responds to USA Swimming's call to postpone Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Updated 7am Sunday as more calls for postponement are made:
Despite the effort to make sure the Games are run, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a 'fair' Olympics in which every athlete arrives at the Games ready to compete at their very best.
In addition to forcing athletes to choose between the safety of themselves and those around them when trying to continue training, not to mention rapidly changing government recommendations and requirements, other pre-Olympic concerns include possible anti-doping abuses as testing pauses or stops, and as we have discussed in past reports, the nearly complete disruption of qualification opportunities.
On a perhaps smaller scale, in the very earliest days of the pandemic, when it looked like the collegiate or scholastic/junior spring seasons might simply pause (note also that not all HS/junior regattas have been cancelled as yet), it was possible to envision a championship with crews that weren't quite as fast or at peak still enjoying the opportunity to compete - although as conferences decided to end training, that quickly became less feasible.
The first indication of this was when the NESCAC schools closed, creating the prospect of a D3 championship that did not include the defending champions, as well as a heap of other schools that are almost always on the podium on Saturday afternoon. Even if some schools allowed teams to train while others were sent home and returned, any championship at that point would have had to have a permanent and large asterisk next to it - and arguably would have been rendered meaningless for many.
For the Olympics, a global event, the wave-like spread of the virus across a very broad timeframe will create training disruptions that are disparate in the extreme with respect to timing and severity, so teams would arrive in July having had very different training opportunities.
Some on the call responded swiftly to condemn the USOPC's 'wait and see' approach, in particular Nancy Armour of USA Today: Opinion: USOPC leadership needs to show actual leadership and call on IOC to postpone.
More news from the call:
Find audio of the USOPC media call here.