March 20, 2020

Olympics still on for now, but qualifiers keep getting cancelled

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While fans wait to find out whether the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will start in July as scheduled, athletes and organizers have a more immediate concern: dozens of qualifying events across sports and around the world have been cancelled or postponed.

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that global sports federations could seek “necessary and practical adaptations” to the ways they select athletes. But there isn’t a lot of time to reschedule major national and international competitions, and any changes in the qualifying process will tilt the playing field in a way no one is prepared for.

“From the IOC’s perspective, there’s still time,” said Isabelle McLemore, a representative for USA Swimming. “The games are still a fair amount of time away, but everyone who’s participating is in turmoil at the moment when you talk about qualifying.”

The Olympics have become the exception in a global sports industry that has shut down due to the virus. More than a decade of planning and billions of dollars have gone into Tokyo 2020, and for the organisers, global sponsors, media companies and the national Japanese hospitality industry, there is a lot to lose.

By the IOC’s accounting, 57 per cent of the roughly 11,000 athletes expected to compete in 2020 have already qualified. But that doesn’t reflect the reality for participants. Many teams secure slots for competitors first, then fill them later. The U.S. wrestling team, for example, has slots for athletes in 15 of the 18 Olympic weight classes. The IOC counts that as 15 athletes qualified, but USA Wrestling planned to award those slots to specific athletes at its trials in early April.

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