SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will put extra measures in place because of the coronavirus pandemic but is continuing preparations to send a delegation to Tokyo for the Olympics in July, Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) officials said on Thursday.
In a sometimes fiery news conference at AOC headquarters, chief executive Matt Carroll and Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman defended their decision to follow the advice of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“If everyone is planning for the Games, we must plan for the Games,” Chesterman said.
“The key will be delivering the athletes to the Games coronavirus free. We have to take faith in the process the IOC are going through with the World Health Organisation.
“Their two guiding principles are to look after the health of athletes and support the containment of the virus.”
Tokyo organizers and the IOC have insisted they are continuing to plan for the Games to go ahead as scheduled on July 24 despite the virus, which has infected more than 212,000 people and caused 8,700 deaths in 164 nations.
They are coming under increasing pressure to cancel or postpone the Games, however, as other major sporting events such as soccer’s Euro 2020 and Copa America as well as the French Open tennis are postponed.
Carroll said with 16 weeks until the athletes were due to depart for Tokyo, and 18 until the opening ceremony, there was no need to rush into a decision.
“We have four months. Think back to where this virus was a month ago, things have changed,” Carroll said.
“Nobody is quite sure how things will pan out over four to six months. They don’t need to make a decision today, they’re taking a measured approach. They’re getting the best possible advice they can possibly get.
“If things change, then the IOC’s decisions will change.”
Chesterman’s predecessor and Olympic rowing champion Nick Green, who led Australia’s delegation at the 2012 London Olympics, earlier told Fairfax media that he now thought it would be “very difficult” to hold the Tokyo Games.
Green said the widespread bans on mass gatherings by governments over the past two weeks had changed his mind over the likelihood of the Games proceeding.
“A couple of weeks ago, I was as confident as everyone else, saying the Olympics would go ahead, no problem,” Green said.
“I’m pretty robust about it but I don’t have the same robustness in my thinking now. I actually can’t see how the Games can go ahead, to be frank.”
Chesterman said the AOC were looking at setting up coronavirus-free pre-Games camps for their Olympians both in Australia and Japan, as well as using charter flights to transport the athletes.
“We will work with sports to curate bespoke solutions to deliver our athletes to the Games fit and healthy and ready to go,” he said.
“I have been traveling round the country talking to athletes and I have no doubt that the athletes want to go to the Games. It would be fantastic thing if the Games could come off in a coronavirus-free environment.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford