South American committees push for qualifiers to go down to the wire

By Eliana Raszewski, Daniela Desantis and Carlos Pacheco

BUENOS AIRES/ASUNCION/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Athletes should be given the chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics right until the Games begin on July 24 due to the disruption caused to the sporting calendar by the coronavirus pandemic, Olympic committees in Latin America said.

Global sport has come to a virtual standstill due to the virus, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives globally. The situation has left thousands of Olympic hopefuls in limbo with many qualifying events around the world postponed or cancelled.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said 57% of 11,000 athletes have secured their Olympic spots for the 33-sport extravaganza.

Calls to postpone the Games have so far fallen on deaf ears, with the IOC and Japanese Prime Minister repeatedly insisting the event will go ahead as scheduled between July 24-August 9.

The presidents of Olympic committees in Argentina, Mexico and Paraguay told Reuters discussions with the IOC were ongoing about holding the qualifiers in May and June as well as using athletes’ previous competition results.

“The qualifiers are a concern and in that sense it was agreed to analyse other types of qualifiers, such as using the Pan American Games in Lima,” said Camilo Pérez, President of the Paraguayan committee, referring to the 2019 tournament in Peru.

“And extending deadlines that would reach almost the date of the Games.”

The pandemic, which has crashed global markets and forced several countries to shut their borders, is also preventing many athletes from continuing their training regime as several countries are advising people to practise social isolation in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

Despite all the disruption, Perez said the regional committees agreed during a video-conference to unanimously support the IOC’s plans to stage the Olympics as planned.

“Athletes have to do everything possible to try to keep fit and continue (training) in this scenario. We are four months away and the world situation changes every day,” Perez said.

Gerardo Werthein, President of the Argentine Olympic Committee, said there was no indication the Games would be suspended but that it was “a dynamic scenario” that changed on a daily basis.

“We are not going to take any risks that could harm someone, neither the athletes nor the spectators, nor all the people who will work to the Games,” he said.

Werthein hoped the qualifiers could resume in May or June.

“But the most important thing is that the IOC has decided to relax qualification rules,” he added, saying that results from previous competitions in the region could be used.

Mexico committee head Carlos Padilla Becerra added: “All this is being rescheduled to do it from the month of May and we have until the last day of June to get inscriptions done.”

Japan is expected to welcome 600,000 overseas spectators and athletes to the event, which has seen sponsors pump in billions of dollars and at least $12 billion spent on preparations.

The head of Colombia’s Olympic Committee separately told Reuters the Games should be postponed if the epidemic is not under control soon.

(Reporting Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion and Carlos Pacheco in Mexico City; Writing by Adam Jourdan, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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