SINGAPORE - Olympic champion Joseph Schooling has welcomed the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games, saying it is the "right move" and has given athletes some "clarity" as they look ahead to sport's biggest stage next year.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in a media briefing on Tuesday (March 24) evening that he had proposed a one-year postponement for the event during talks with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who was in "100 per cent agreement".
While the new dates for the Games, originally scheduled for July 24-Aug 9, have not been announced, a joint statement by the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said the event would take place by the summer of 2021.
Reigning 100m butterfly gold medallist Schooling said he was "pleased" the organisers had arrived at the decision.
"This is undoubtedly a tough call but not an unexpected one," said the Singapore swimmer in a statement. "I believe this is the right move so as to not endanger the health and well-being of athletes and the public."
Schooling, whose triumph in Rio in 2016 was Singapore's first at the Olympics, added that the postponement gives competitors peace of mind, saying: "As athletes, we need to focus on being prepared and giving ourselves the best possible chance of success at the largest sporting event in the world.
"This decision gives us clarity as we recalibrate and work out the best plan around the new dates of the (Tokyo Olympics)."
He also expressed sympathy for those who have been affected by the upheaval around the world. These include many athletes unable to train after their countries implemented lockdowns to curb the spread of the disease, as well as officials in charge of putting the Games and teams together.
"My heart goes out to the working committee of the Olympics Games Tokyo 2020, the Singapore National Olympic Council and all affected athletes around the world."
The swimmer also expressed a belief that things would improve: "By keeping calm, staying united and being socially responsible, I believe we can overcome the challenging times ahead and beat the virus."
A spokesman for the SNOC described the decision to postpone the Olympics as one made "under difficult circumstances" and said it would regroup with affected national sports associations and athletes on any revisions to selection policies or the qualification process.
"We hope by then Team Singapore will be able to participate in the Olympic Games and celebrate the triumph of sports, but also humanity, without the risks the world is facing now," the spokesman added.
Jonathan Chan, who became the first local diver to qualify for an Olympics, also welcomed the delay, saying: "The postponement allows me to continue improving and to prepare myself to be in top shape and form for the Games next year."
Sailors Kimberly Lim and Cecilia Low, who qualified for Tokyo in the two-person 49erFX event, said they had been "mentally prepared" for a postponement.
"In light of the global pandemic, health and safety comes first, and this situation is way bigger than us or sports," they said.
"We agree that the postponement will be the fairest and safest option. For us, our goal is to perform our best at the Olympic Games, and that has not changed.
"It is in our hands to adapt and keep an open mind to best prepare ourselves, despite the uncertainty of timeline."
Singapore's top male shuttler Loh Kean Yew, who has not booked his place in Tokyo but stands a good chance of maintaining his world ranking and making the cut, said: "While it is disappointing from a sports point of view because we have been training very hard to prepare for it, I understand this is a necessary and important measure for the safety of everyone involved."
Loh, who is world No. 36, said he was "quite assured" of qualifying for the Olympics with its original dates but is now awaiting updates from the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
"It is up to the BWF to see if it is going to restart the rankings or continue where we left off," said the 22-year-old.
"Qualifying is only the first step, being able to be in top form physically and mentally and peak at the Olympics is more important.
"What is important for me in this period is to take good care of my body and make sure I am ready to take off from where I left off when tournaments resume."