An athletes’ rebellion has also been brewing. Several have spoken out recently, notably Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the I.O.C.’s athletes’ commission. Wickenheiser, a doctor and five-time Olympian, described efforts to press on with plans for the Games amid a global health crisis as “insensitive and irresponsible.”
The I.O.C. leadership was shocked by the scale of the impact the virus has had on large parts of Europe, with Italy now surpassing China for the number of dead, and casualty figures in neighboring countries growing rapidly by the day.
In his most recent public comments on the decision, Bach on Thursday backed off his previous hard line that the Games would happen this July.
“Of course we are considering different scenarios,” Bach said. “But we are contrary to many other sports organizations or professional leagues in that we are four and a half months away from the Games. They are even more optimistic than we are, because most of them have postponed their events until April or the end of May. We are talking about the end of July.”
Although the Olympics may not begin for four months, sponsors, fans, athletes and national Olympic committees have to make decisions and commitments now. Sponsors, who pay $25 million a year or more to be affiliated with the Games, are finalizing hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising and promotional expenses, as well as travel and hospitality for thousands of employees and guests they plan to take to the Games.
In addition, many of those companies are experiencing deep losses in world markets, and in western Europe and the United States, business has ground to a halt.
Ricardo Fort, the head of global sponsorships for Coca-Cola, the oldest sponsor of the Olympics, with an unbroken partnership since 1928, wrote on Twitter: “The IOC is taking the right steps to proper evaluate their options. Whatever decision they make, it will be based on facts (and not on the pressure of any one Federation in any one country, no matter the Federation or the country).”