World Athletics president Seb Coe yesterday risked the wrath of athletes by warning a premature decision over postponing the Tokyo Olympics could have a needlessly damaging impact on their earnings.
While the sentiment might reassure some athletes at a time when they are making no money in appearance fees, the comments run counter to the concerns of an increasing number who feel they are being exposed to virus risks by continuing to train for Games that might not happen.
Those fears were touched on last night by the British Olympic Association, who said in a statement that "it is clearly only wise for athletes to continue to prepare for the Games where it is safe … we will not endanger the health and wellbeing of the athletes or wider delegation at any point".
With the Games due to begin on July 24, Lord Coe, who is a member of the Tokyo 2020 coordination commission, would not rule out the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo chiefs postponing the Games.
But in balancing against the growing opinion that they should be postponed immediately, he said: "Let’s not make a precipitous decision when we don’t have to four months out. If you had to ease that date, you’d have to ease it. Anything is possible at the moment. The temperature in the room with the IOC is nobody is saying we’re going to the Games come what may."
The IOC and the Tokyo organisers have so far been steadfast in their belief that the Games can go ahead as planned.
When asked about possibly pushing the Olympics back a year to 2021, Coe said: "It seems on the surface an easy proposition but athletics has its Worlds on that date, the Euros in football have been moved back a year. The sporting calendar is a complicated matrix and it is not easy to move from one year to the next. It would be ridiculous to say anything is ruled out. The whole world wants clarity. We’re no different from any other sector.
"In athletics we’ve postponed three Diamond League meetings but not all because we don’t have to make that decision. Everybody accepts this is a fast-moving environment. I need to be careful I’m not removing the earning potential from athletes any more than I need to at this moment."
The messaging from IOC president Thomas Bach is that the Olympics are currently on track. Yet inside and out of sport, it is a stance that is looking more baffling by the hour.
Olympic pole vault champion, Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, has been among the prominent athletes to articulate the contradiction between advice to populations to isolate and the suggestion that an athlete can still train.
She said: "I believe the IOC’s comments are starting to become negligent. They’re telling us to keep training? When the whole world is trying to avoid each other. How?"
Coe has previously acknowledged that the crisis could have distorting effects on the competition if it does go ahead this summer, owing to the differing timescales and lockdown responses to the virus. A distance runner in Spain or Italy, for instance, would appear to be at a major disadvantage.
Speaking on the same broadcast as Coe yesterday, former Olympic champion rower Sir Matthew Pinsent said: "I just think there are bigger things to worry about at this stage on a global front.
"For most of the European countries, as well as 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.
"It’s unfair for the Olympics to say we’re going to carry on. There are the two big forces in an Olympic athlete’s life, which are the Olympics and everything else. And those two things are pulling in different directions."
The BOA statement read: "It is imperative to preserve competitive integrity for athletes, but it is only wise for athletes to continue to prepare for the Games where it is safe and appropriate to do so, within relevant Government and public health guidelines.
"As of the date of this statement, the IOC and the local Tokyo organising committee of the Olympic Games have confirmed there is no change to the status of the Games happening between July 24 and August 9.
"The BOA will support the ongoing decision-making process and input wherever necessary. However, we can be categorically clear that we will not endanger the health and wellbeing of the athletes or wider delegation at any point."