International Olympic chiefs have promised teams around the world that the Winter Games in Beijing will go ahead as planned despite fears over the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.
The assurance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came on Wednesday, the day after Switzerland’s team leader had asked for talks about possibly postponing the Beijing Games because of the pandemic.
The IOC gave assurances about next month’s event during a video conference call with teams and also promised case-by-case assessments of athletes who recover after testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of travelling to China, the Swiss team said in a statement.
“The issue of a postponement is no longer relevant to all of us,” Swiss team leader Ralph Stockli said.
The IOC is hoping to avoid a second straight delay after the Tokyo summer Games, originally scheduled to be held in 2020, were postponed by one year.
Stockli had raised concerns about going ahead with the Beijing Olympics amid rising numbers of athletes being infected by COVID-19 when he spoke in a Swiss television interview on Tuesday.
“We must really discuss the possibility of a postponement of the Games,” Stockli had told French-language state broadcaster RTS.
“If we don’t have the best athletes there, that’s going to be very, very difficult.”
After listening to the IOC on Wednesday, the Swiss Olympic team said it is “happy to now have some certainty on this subject.”
Another Swiss concern that was eased Wednesday related to waiting times after recovering from a COVID-19 infection before an athlete would be allowed to enter China.
The IOC and Chinese organisers announced that a panel of international experts will evaluate individual cases and handle the issue in a “more flexible manner,” the Swiss team said.
Still, the team noted “very demanding” conditions to compete, qualify and prepare with the opening ceremony on February 4 only 30 days away.
Stöckli acknowledged Wednesday that “there will probably be disappointments” for athletes who end up being unable to compete.
Beijing organisers and the IOC are creating a health safety bubble for the Olympics with stricter testing and limits on travel and movement than were enforced at last year’s Tokyo Games.