Sir Matthew Pinsent criticises ‘folly’ of insisting Tokyo Olympics will go ahead

Four-time Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent believes it is “folly” for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to insist the Tokyo Games will go ahead.

IOC chairman Thomas Bach said on Tuesday that starting on schedule on July 24 remains the organisation’s goal, despite much of the sporting calendar being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it’s the IOC saying we must try and get through if we can, which I have a degree of sympathy with, it just runs counter to what every health authority and government is saying around the world,” Pinsent told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Olympic Games
The Tokyo Olympics are due to start on July 24 (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We’ve seen lockdowns across Europe and across Asia at different timescales but this is coming and the idea that the Olympics are going to carry on regardless I think is folly.

“On a global front we have other priorities and I think the Olympics should at the very least be saying we should postpone or indeed just cancel at this stage and we’ll talk about postponement later on.

“I just don’t think there’s much of a choice at this stage. For much of the European countries as well Asian countries, organised sport in any meaningful way has ceased and that’s from government advice.

“I don’t see there’s any way forward for an Olympic athlete to train effectively even as an individual but particularly in a team environment.

Thomas Bach
IOC president Thomas Bach believes the Olympic Games will go ahead (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I just think it’s unfair actually, I think it’s unfair almost for the Olympics to say we’re going to carry on, the Olympics are still happening, we are committed to the Olympics in July, because there are two big forces in an Olympic athlete’s life, which is the Olympics and everything else and those two things are pulling in different directions at this moment and it’s very very difficult for them individually when they’ve got that tension in their own heads.”

Asked why he felt the IOC was insisting the Games would go ahead, Pinsent added: “I think they feel a responsibility to Tokyo.

“We know having hosted in 2012 that seven-year build up is a crescendo of energy and concentration and effort on behalf of the city and on behalf of the nation and the government, everybody takes a pride in it.

“I know that Tokyo have done exactly the same and actually the financial stakes are much higher for the host city than they are for the IOC.”

Sir Matthew Pinsent
Sir Matthew Pinsent directs Great Britain’s Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell to row to the Berkshire side during his Diamond Challenge Sculls race against New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale during the Henley Royal Regatta at Henley-on-Thames, Oxford (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Pinsent believes the IOC should follow the lead of other sporting organisations which have suspended matches or tournaments in order to give themselves time to assess the long-term situation.

“If you had a decision tree, the first one is are the Olympics going to carry on in Tokyo in July as planned and to me that very soon is going to be a no, a firm no,” the 49-year-old added.

“The decision whether to reinstate it in Tokyo, whether it’s later in the year or next year or delay by two or four years, is a decision that does not have to happen now. That can take time.

“For an Olympic athlete, ideally you’d want 12 months’ notice and so you could say now, ‘we’re really sorry, the Olympics is not going to happen as planned in July, we are going to assess the situation and announce what’s going to happen’ which is where most other sports have got to with this.”

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