Canada became the first country to boycott the Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus pandemic and Australia told its athletes to prepare for an Olympics next year as Japan and the IOC flagged the prospect of a postponement for the first time.
Opposition to holding the Games in July rose sharply over the weekend with major stakeholders such as U.S. Track and Field and UK Athletics, along with some national Olympic committees, calling for a delay because of the pandemic.
Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic Committees raised the ante considerably, however, when they said they would not be sending athletes to Tokyo if the Games went ahead as scheduled.
Under mounting pressure to postpone the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government had on Sunday and Monday had only partially shifted their position that the Games would go ahead as planned.
Martin Richard, communications chief for the Canadian Paralympic Committee, said the Canadians had been watching for a decision from the IOC on Sunday about postponing the Games and decided to withdraw when none came.
“The world is facing a crisis and this is more important than any other sport event,” Richard told Reuters from Ottawa.
“We decided that was the right thing to do.”
Richard said for Paralympic athletes, some of whom had underlying conditions, it would be risky to expose them if the virus was not contained.
“We felt it was unethical to have them be put in that position,” he said, adding that Canada had had not been alone in applying pressure on the IOC to postpone.