Olympics Organizers Admit 'No Solution Will Be Ideal' to Coronavirus as Athletes Accuse IOC of Putting Their Health at Risk

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 organizers acknowledged "no solution will be ideal" in preparing for the games, after both bodies came under significant criticism from athletes in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak.

The 2020 Olympic Games are scheduled to be held in Tokyo between July 24 and August 9, but the fate of the games appears increasingly in question as the world battles to contain COVID-19.

"The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes' health," the IOC said in a statement on Wednesday.

"No solution will be ideal in this situation, and this is why we are counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes."

From the NBA to the MLB and the European soccer leagues, the world of sports has ground to a halt as coronavirus developed into a global pandemic. On Tuesday, the summer soccer European Championships became the latest high-profile event to fall victim of COVID-19 after UEFA — European soccer's governing body — opted to postpone the tournament until next year.

The French Open suffered the same fate, moving from April until summer.

The IOC and Tokyo's organizing committee, however, have repeatedly dismissed suggestions that the Olympics could be postponed or canceled. With the exception of the two world wars, the Olympics have never been canceled since they began in their modern guise in 1896.

"We have never discussed cancelling the Games," the organizing committee told Newsweek on Wednesday.

"Preparations for the Games are continuing as planned. Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of our plans to host a safe and secure Games. [...] We have created a framework for periodic updates between Tokyo 2020 and the IOC and will continue to stay in close collaboration.

"Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organizations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and we will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations."​

Tokyo 2020, coronavirus
The sun sets behind the Olympic rings at Odaiba Marine Park on March 18 in Tokyo, Japan. Clive Rose/Getty

The coronavirus pandemic has caused havoc to the Olympic schedule, with a number of qualifying events postponed or canceled as athletes have not been able to travel or compete due to health warnings and various lockdown measures.

Of the 11,000 athletes due to compete in the Olympics, 57 percent have already secured their spot in Tokyo. The remaining 43 percent will do so through modified qualifiers, which the IOC has agreed to implement due to the unforeseen circumstances.

"This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions," the Olympics governing body said in a communique released on Tuesday.

"The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive.

"The IOC encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can."

However, a growing number of athletes have criticized the IOC for a lack of clarity and risking their health.

This is not about how things will be in 4 months. This is about how things are now. The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family’s health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months.https://t.co/cICKVQ4qsZ

— Katerina Stefanidi (@KatStefanidi) March 17, 2020

"This is not about how things will be in four months," Greece's reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi said on Twitter.

"This is about how things are now. The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in four months."

Her thoughts echoed those of four-time Olympic gold medalist and IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser, who called the IOC's stance "insensitive and irresponsible".

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and over the past few days my perspective has changed. I was voted to represent and protect athletes. As an IOCAC member, 6x Olympian and Medical doctor in training on the front lines in ER up until this week,these are my thoughts on @Olympics : pic.twitter.com/vrvfsQZ1GO

— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) March 17, 2020

Britain's Katarine Johnson-Thompson, the reigning heptathlon world champion, added her voice to the chorus.

"The IOC advice 'encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympics Games as best as they can' with the Olympics only four months away but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home, with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed," she was quoted as saying by the BBC.

"I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine, which is impossible."

I understand that sport isn’t everything and there are more important issues sourrounding coronavirus but thought I would speak out purely on what my situation of it has been. Hope the UK, France and the rest of the world stay safe and look after each other in these crazy times❤️ pic.twitter.com/0zxECDetpM

— KJT (@JohnsonThompson) March 17, 2020

As of Wednesday morning, more than 800 cases were reported in Japan, with 29 deaths and 17 people recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

As this chart provided by Statista shows, over 8,000 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There are over 198,000 cases globally, with 82,000 recovered.

This graph, provided by Statista, shows the confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, as of March 18. Statista