CANMORE – The status of this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics looks to be moving forward as heath authorities keep a watchful eye over COVID-19 developments more than two months away from the international showcase.
On May 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave encouraging remarks for Olympic and Paralympic organizers, stating it has "confidence" the parties will make the right decisions to manage strict COVID-19 countermeasures that are being put in place.
“It is our hope that the Olympics can occur," said Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme in a media briefing. "We have seen sporting events and leagues run very, very safely over the last six months, without spectators, with special bubbles and arrangements for athletes and for others – footballers and many, many others.”
COVID-19 countermeasures are being taken in the Olympic Villages, training facilities, and around the venues, and include a newly introduced playbook that all participants are required to follow.
Ryan added that spectators at the international spectacle – how many or how few – will be determined by authorities in Japan.
"As needed, they will make the decisions that are needed based on the epidemiologic situation as we approach the July date," he said.
According to the Japan Times, the Japanese population is against the Games this summer. A recent survey showed that over 80 per cent of voters opposed hosting the Games in the nation's capital.
With the Tokyo Olympic Games tentatively set between July 23 and Aug. 8, and the Paralympics between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was encouraged by the WHO's remarks, and not on the recent poll.
"I would like to express our thanks to WHO for the co-operation and advice we have enjoyed from them since the very beginning of the pandemic and the confidence they have expressed in the planned countermeasures and the IOC," said Thomas Bach, IOC president. "We will continue to be guided by scientific and medical expertise from around the world to organize safe Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 for everyone.”
The Bow Valley is well-known as a place that grows Olympians and Paralympians every four years, but the vast majority of athletes compete in winter sports.
For Canmore race walker Mat Bilodeau, the 37-year-old is the lone local hope to qualify to this year's summer Games in the men's 50-km race walk.
Due to inactivity caused by the pandemic, the Canadian dropped down in Olympic standings, but he thinks there's a shot at qualifying based on rankings.
Sixty walkers will qualify with about half the spots spoken for, and Bilodeau's status remains uncertain after a series of unfortunate events this month.
The 2016 Olympian was scheduled to compete at the Pan Am Race Walking Cup, a Tokyo Games qualifying race, in Ecuador on May 9.
It was a race he knew a solid performance would pack his bags to Japan, but Athletics Canada backed out of the competition at the last minute due to health concerns.
Still, the local race walker had one more shot to punch his ticket to Tokyo at the Canadian 50km Racewalk Championships, which was scheduled to go down this Sunday (May 23) in Quebec City. However, Bilodeau wasn't surprised when it was cancelled last week.
There's a glimmer of hope for Bilodeau though, who could qualify based on rankings after the European Cup produced slow times.
A decision on the race walk qualifiers is expected in June.