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Coronavirus: Canada and Australia become first nations to pull out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

Cycling Canada: Women's team pursuit squad 2019
Cycling Canada: Women's team pursuit squad 2019 (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) announced Sunday evening that they will not send athletes to compete at the Olympic Games scheduled to be held from July 24 to August 9 in Tokyo. Canada is the first nation to pull out of the event amid concerns and risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Following the announcement by the COC and CPC, Australia's chef de mission, Ian Chesterman, also urged the ICO postpone the Games until 2021. He also told his country's athletes to start preparing for the event to be held next year.

The COC and the CPC have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to postpone the Games for a year.

"We offer them our full support in helping navigate all the complexities that rescheduling the Games will bring. While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community," read the press statement.

The nation's decision to not send athletes to the Games this summer was backed by Athletes' Commissions, National Sport Organizations and the Government of Canada, according to a press statement.

"This is not solely about athlete health – it is about public health," read the press statement. 

"With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games. In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow."

The IOC reiterated on Sunday that cancellation of the Olympic Games "is not on the agenda", but said it would decide in four weeks if the coronavirus pandemic would force a postponement.

The IOC's executive board (EB) said cancelling the Olympics would "not solve any of the problems or help anybody" but said it will "step up its scenario-planning" for the Games, relating to "modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on July 24, 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games".

The COC and CPC reviewed the letter sent Sunday by the IOC and said that they were thankful to the IOC for its assurance that it will not be cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Games and appreciative that it understood the importance of accelerating its decision-making regarding a possible postponement.

"We also applaud the IOC for acknowledging that safeguarding the health and wellness of nations and containing the virus must be our paramount concern. We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport," the COC and CPC statement read.

"The COC and CPC would like to thank our athletes, partners and the Canadian sport community for their patience and for lending us their voices during these unprecedented times. We remain hopeful that the IOC and IPC will agree with the decision to postpone the Games as a part of our collective responsibility to protect our communities and work to contain the spread of the virus."

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics would be unavoidable if the Games cannot be held in a complete way because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report in the CBC. In addition, Abe said that if the Games are postponed, he hoped the IOC would make that decision early because the process would involve a lot of work.

Just three days ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he tentatively supported the Olympic Games continuing as planned. However, he made a new public address Monday, stating that he is in agreement with the COC's decision to not send Canadian athletes to the Games.

"This is absolutely the right call, and everyone should follow their lead," said Trudeau.