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Relief as Games are pushed back

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Sascoc acting president Barry Hendricks expressed delight that the decision was taken swiftly and lauded the IOC for showing leadership.

THERE was acceptance all round as South African athletes and sporting bodies welcomed, with an attitude of understanding, news that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to next year owing to the coronavirus pandemic that has essentially brought the world to a standstill.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach issued a joint-statement yesterday saying the Games which were set for July to August have been rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than the summer of next year given the need to protect the health of athletes, and just about everyone who would be involved in the Games including spectators, from Covid-19.

Showing leadership

Sascoc acting president Barry Hendricks expressed delight that the decision was taken swiftly and lauded the IOC for showing leadership.

“It came sooner than expected because they had said about four weeks. We are very happy and appreciate that the IOC and the IPC made such a sound decision. We now need to work with them regarding the issue of qualification events and the times for these Games. Obviously our first focus is to keep safe during this lockdown and we urge our athletes to be safe and practice all the right hygienic behaviour.

“As Sascoc we will do all in our power to get all the necessary information from the IOC and share it with our federations and athletes to make sure we have a strong Team SA for next year.”

Said Aleck Skhosana, the president of Athletics South Africa (ASA): “We welcome this decision. This is in line with the position we held in our recent engagements with media, that it would be in the interest of athletes and everyone else to postpone the Games to another time.

“The postponement will now give everyone the opportunity to concentrate all resources in dealing with the fight against this world pandemic. On the other side, we hope that this will also mean all athletes will now have a fair opportunity to prepare for the Games once the virus is defeated.”

Star marathoner Stephen Mokoka whose fifth-place finish at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Doha made her a real medal hopeful for Team South Africa agreed with the IOC move.

“Our safety is important and I hope they announce the (new) dates that will give us time to prepare enough. This is a global matter and I think it is good they postponed because we are on lockdown now. With such news, there will be no more panicking among athletes worried about preparing for upcoming events.”

Comrades Marathon champion Gerda Steyn was looking forward to officially representing South Africa for the first time on a global stage. While gutted that she has to now wait a little longer, she knows the decision is for the better for everyone.

“It is disappointing, but much like many other races that have been cancelled recently, it was expected. I am grateful for the decision to postpone as opposed to cancelling the games as a whole. I will restructure my training as soon as we get more clarity on dates, etc. But my immediate focus will move to the next most-likely event to take place.

“We have to think about everyone around us at the moment, and – like President Ramaphosa said – not to think of our own interests but that of the entire world It is better to have some more clarity than being kept in the dark with regards to the decisions.

“The Olympic Games in 2021 will be a symbol of hope and the fact that we have defeated the crisis.”

The national Under-23 men’s team were also excitedly anticipating competing in the football tournament at the Games.

But assistant coach Kwanele Kopo described the postponement as “right”.

“Under the circumstances and current state of affairs, it is probably only fair that the Olympics are postponed. It would have been difficult to prepare with this current situation. Our focus, for now, should be to keep everyone safe. So yes, it was a sensible decision by the IOC.”