United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee chair Susanne Lyons says it is her "deepest wish" that the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be able to take place as scheduled, but she admits the organization is planning for a variety of outcomes depending on what happens with the coronavirus in the coming weeks.
Lyons and USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland spoke to reporters on a conference call Friday following USOPC board meetings Thursday. Though neither gave specifics about contingency plans, sentiment appears to be growing globally about a potential postponement of the Games due to the coronavirus.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who had insisted over the past two weeks that the Games will take place as scheduled, conceded to The New York Times on Thursday that the IOC is "considering different scenarios." The USOPC echoed those sentiments Friday.
"This is and will likely continue to be a work in progress as the environment continues to evolve," Hirshland said.
With a little over four months until the July 24 opening ceremonies, athletes around the world are at a critical point in training. Some, like those in Italy, Spain, France and parts of the United States, are unable to properly train due to stay-at-home orders from federal and local governments. The USOPC has closed its training centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and New York to any athletes who aren't full-time residents.
There is also the challenge of deciding whether to send equipment and supplies to Japan in preparation for the Games.
"The reality is there are issues on all sides of this that are creating real anxiety and concern for all of us," Hirshland said. "There is a high degree of uncertainty and a lack of clarity, and we absolutely want to have clarity as soon as it is practical. I don't know if there is an answer in this that will provide ease for everyone."
Bach was widely criticized earlier this week for sending mixed messages in a call with the IOC Athletes Commission in which he told athletes to obey local ordinances but continue to train as if the Games were going to take place as scheduled. Hirshland tried to simplify the message for American athletes on Friday.
"As Americans right now, our No. 1 priority needs to be the health and safety of everyone and stopping the transmission of this virus, period, full stop," Hirshland said. "That should not conflict with the decisions someone is making about training. We are not suggesting under any circumstances that an athlete compromises health and safety in order to train."
The Olympics have been canceled only three times in history: during World War I (1916) and World War II (1940, 1944). There has never been an Olympic postponement.
The uncertainty over whether there will be a Games has added to what is already a stressful time of the four-year cycle for Olympic athletes. Most American athletes have yet to qualify for the Games, but with the current coronavirus situation, many national governing bodies, such as USA Wrestling, have canceled or postponed Olympic trials.
Jacob Pebley, a swimmer on the 2016 Olympic team, expressed his concerns in an Instagram post Thursday night.
"How can we, members of Team USA and role models for hundreds of thousands of young athletes, attend Olympic Trials/the Olympics in good conscience?" Pebley wrote. "To do so would fly in the face of all emerging evidence and best practices for social distancing and protecting the health of vulnerable communities."
Hirshland said Friday that the USOPC has heard from several athletes and that the opinions are as varied as the athletes themselves.
"There are athletes out there for whom this feels like their opportunity, their one chance and only opportunity," she said.
USOPC chief medical officer Dr. Jonathan Finnoff said Friday that he is unaware of any Summer Olympic athletes with COVID-19. He said two winter athletes returned from Europe with symptoms of the virus and were tested. One test came back negative, and the other is still pending.
It was unclear Friday what effect a positive test from a U.S. Summer Olympian would have on America's decision to participate in the Games. The NBA quickly postponed its season after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
Hirshland did hint at the possibility of the Games taking place without American athletes.
"The decision about the Games does not lie with us. That lies with the World Health Order, the Japanese government and the IOC," she said. "But under no scenario would we send our athletes into harm's way if it was not safe."
USOPC leadership is communicating regularly with the highest levels of the IOC and sharing feedback.
"We've expressed the concerns and challenges that we and the rest of the world are facing," Lyons said. "We would concur that we need more expert advice than we have today. We don't have to make a decision. Our Games aren't two weeks from now. They are four months from now. We are allowing the IOC to gather that advice."