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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Tokyo Olympics should be delayed: Japan committee member

'Training puts athletes at risk,' medalist Yamaguchi warns

Kaori Yamaguchi is a professor of physical education at the University of Tsukuba.

TOKYO -- The Tokyo Summer Olympics should be postponed, a Japanese committee official told Nikkei on Thursday, arguing that athletes are already at risk by continuing to train for the games amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Kaori Yamaguchi, who took the bronze medal for judo at the 1988 games in Seoul, became the first Japanese Olympic Committee executive board member to openly split with the International Olympic Committee, which is still set on proceeding with the games from the end of July as scheduled.

The IOC "is putting athletes at risk," Yamaguchi said. She plans to argue her position when the JOC meets Friday next week.

"As far as I can tell from news reports coming out of the U.S. and Europe, I don't think the situation allows for athletes to continue training as usual," Yamaguchi said.

Athletes are inclined to train if told a contest is coming up, she said. "By asking them to train under these conditions, the IOC is opening itself up the criticism that it is not putting athletes first," Yamaguchi said.

Former Olympic medalists overseas are already questioning the IOC's stance on social media.

Olympic Committee of Spain President Alejandro Blanco said this week that Spanish athletes will be at a disadvantage if the games are not pushed back.

Members of Japan's national badminton and fencing teams have entered into residential quarantine after coming back from international excursions. Other national teams have cancelled training camps in Japan.

Organizers are scaling back the Japan leg of the torch relay, due to begin next Thursday, asking roadside spectators who feel ill to stay home. Yamaguchi also cited this development as a reason to postpone the games.

"Unlike other sporting events, the Olympics symbolize the ideal that sports bring about world peace," she said. "We should not hold [the Olympics] if people across the world can't enjoy themselves."

"What I'm most scared of is that we force an opening and have people question the Olympics, asking, 'Why only the Olympics?'" she said.

The IOC said Tuesday that "with more than four months to go before the games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage." John Coates, chairman of the Tokyo Olympics coordination commission, told Australian media that the IOC does not have any deadline in mind for making the final call.

"Even if there is a reason that prevents the IOC from making a decision right now, [the IOC] should indicate a deadline," Yamaguchi argued. "A sudden announcement, like the decision to move the marathon and footraces to Sapporo, is not acceptable," she said.

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