Tokyo’s prospects of hosting the 2020 Olympic Games in July in the teeth of the coronavirus pandemic receded dramatically on Monday after organisers suffered two public body blows.
The Canadian Olympic committee announced it would not send its athletes to the event if they are held between 24 July and 9 August and Sebastian Coe, head of World Athletics, called for the games to be postponed in the interests of the competitors.
More than 300 Canadian athletes attended the 2016 Olympics in Rio where they won a total of 22 prizes including four golds.
Though that haul left them only 20th in the final table of medals, they were the first to pull out of the 2020 extravaganza.
"The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), backed by their Athletes' Commissions, National Sports Organisations and the government of Canada, have made the difficult decision to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020," the COC said in a statement.
The COC urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reschedule the games to 2021.
"While we recognise the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community," the COC and CPC said.
"With Covid-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these games. In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow."
Last week Coe said it would be too hasty to make a decision to postpone the games. But as the worldwide death toll from coronavirus continues to rise, the former Olympic champion yielded to the grisly reality.
In a letter to Thomas Bach, the IOC boss, Coe said: "Whilst we all know that different parts of the world are at different stages of the virus, the unanimous view across all our areas is that an Olympic Games in July this year is neither feasible nor desirable."
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told parliament on Monday that Japan was still committed to a complete games. However he conceded: “It may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone.”
Abe’s obduracy that the games would take place on schedule was appearing increasingly anachronistic as the death rates rose and the number of people testing positive for the virus soared past the 300,000 mark.
"Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the games," Bach wrote in an open letter to athletes after emergency talks with IOC committees on Sunday.
He added: "Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody. Therefore it is not on our agenda."