Israeli Olympic Athletes Relieved Tokyo Games Postponed Over Coronavirus Outbreak

Athletes welcome end to uncertainty over whether they would compete this summer, as the coronavirus continues to jolt countries worldwide

A banner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is seen behind a traffic sign in Tokyo, Japan, March 23, 2020.
A banner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is seen behind a traffic sign in Tokyo, Japan, March 23, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics, slated for this summer, will be postponed by about one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday.

Abe said that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach had agreed to his request to delay the games. “We asked President Bach to consider postponement of about one year to make it possible for athletes to play in the best condition, and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators,” Abe said. “President Bach said he is in agreement 100 percent.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70Credit: Haaretz

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Tokyo had completed preparations for the event when the virus started spreading across the world. Despite insisting for months that the games would go ahead as planned, Abe this week said a delay may be unavoidable.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike separately told reporters the games, to be convened by the summer of 2021, would still be branded “Tokyo 2020.”

The decision was largely supported by Israel’s Olympic athletes.

“I have no doubt this was the right decision,” Sagi Muki, a 2019 world champion in judo, said.Muki added that housing 11,000 athletes in a crowded Olympic village while the virus rages would have endangered both the athletes and the world. Moreover, while athletes in some countries are training as usual, European athletes are in lockdown, and the lack of training would make them unable to compete on equal terms, he said.

Muki added that he was glad a decision had finally been made. “It wasn’t easy to live with this uncertainty,” he said. “I had to struggle every day to focus.”

Linoy Ashram, an international medalist in rhythmic gymnastics, issued a press statement saying the decision was “proper and sportsmanlike, as it will enable all the athletes to arrive at the Tokyo 2021 games at maximum preparedness.”

In an interview with Haaretz, she said she would have preferred to have the games take place as scheduled this summer, but if they had to be postponed, she preferred that the decision be made as early as possible. “The earlier we know, the better the preparations for the Olympics will be,” she added.

Shahar Tzuberi, a former Olympic medalist who was supposed to represent Israel in windsurfing at the games again this year, also backed the decision. “I really believe this is the right thing to do, both from a sporting standpoint and, most importantly, from a health standpoint,” said Tzuberi.

He noted that while his training hasn’t been affected by the virus – “you can always windsurf” – he understands that the same isn’t true for other athletes. He added that postponing the games by a year, however, could change the criteria for who is allowed to compete.

The Olympic Committee of Israel said in a statement that it welcomed the postponement, noting that Israel’s Olympic athletes have been suffering from the uncertainty, and that it hoped the international committee would officially announce a date for next year’s games soon.

“Even though the postponement was unavoidable, the disappointment is severe,” the statement added. “But in sports, disappointment is part of the process, and of the road to success.”

The head of the Israel Paralympics Committee, Nissim Sasportas, said he was “very pleased” with the postponement. “Protecting the athletes’ health comes before everything.”

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