March 21, 2020
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USA Track joins swimming in pushing for Olympic postponement

Gregorio Borgia | AP
Gregorio Borgia | AP
A group of students from Uruguay pose for a souvenir picture on the Olympic Rings set outside the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Saturday, March 21, 2020.

DENVER — U.S. Olympic leaders face a growing rebellion after the USA Track and Field chief added to the call for a postponement of the Tokyo Games because of the mushrooming coronavirus crisis.

CEO Max Siegel sent a two-page note to his counterpart at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Sarah Hirshland, asking the federation to advocate for a delay. It came late Friday, only a few hours after USA Swimming’s CEO sent a similar letter.

Now, the sports that accounted for 65 of America’s 121 medals and 175 of its 554 athletes at the last Summer Games are on record in urging, in Siegel’s words, “the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.”

Other national committees are already doing that. The federations in Norway and Brazil each went public with requests to postpone.

“Our clear recommendation is that the Olympic Games in Tokyo shall not take place before the COVID-19 situation is under firm control on a global scale,” Norway’s federation wrote in a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach.

The U.S. brings the largest contingent to every Summer Games and wins the most medals — both factors that have led NBC to pay billions to televise the games through 2032. It would seem to give the committee leverage in talks about almost any subject with the international committee, but the federation has been reluctant to use its power. It spent years, in fact, trying to smooth over tense relations with its international partners.

And since Hirshland took over as CEO in 2018, the focus has been inward, as the sex-abuse scandals that have consumed American sports have shifted the focus to athlete welfare and safety.

Hirshland and the U.S. committee board chair, Susanne Lyons, were insistent that the committee won’t sacrifice athlete safety in the current crisis. But they stopped well short of pushing the international committee toward a postponement.

“The decision about the games does not lie directly with us,” Lyons said in a conference call with reporters Friday. “It lies with WHO, the Japanese government and the IOC. Under no circumstance would the USOPC send athletes into harm’s way if didn’t think it was safe.”

Leaders of the track and swimming teams don’t appear willing to take that risk, either, though whether they’ll act on their own — without the sign-off from the USOPC — remains in question. The leader of the third sport that makes up the backbone of the Olympics — gymnastics — has sent a survey to athletes, asking for their thoughts on what the USA Gymnastics stance should be.

 


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