IOC assures teams Winter Olympics in Beijing will go ahead

GENEVA -- A day after Switzerland's team leader asked for talks about possibly postponing the Beijing Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, the IOC promised officials worldwide Wednesday the Winter Games will go ahead as planned.

The Swiss Olympic committee said the IOC, during a video conference call with teams, gave assurances about staging next month's event.

The International Olympic Committee also promised case-by-case assessments of athletes who recover after testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of traveling to China, the Swiss team said in a statement.

"The issue of a postponement is no longer relevant to all of us," Swiss team leader Ralph Stöckli said in the statement.

The International Olympic Committee is hoping to avoid a second straight delay. The Tokyo Games, originally scheduled to be held in 2020, were postponed one year. That decision was made four months before the scheduled opening ceremony.

However, Stöckli, speaking Tuesday in a Swiss television interview, raised concerns about going ahead with the Beijing Olympics amid rising numbers of athletes being infected by COVID-19.

"We must really discuss the possibility of a postponement of the Games," Stöckli told French-language state broadcaster RTS. "If we don't have the best athletes there, that's going to be very, very difficult."

After listening to the IOC on Wednesday, the Swiss Olympic team said it is "happy to now have some certainty on this subject."

Another Swiss concern that was eased Wednesday related to waiting times before an athlete would be allowed to enter China after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. The IOC and Chinese organizers announced that a panel of international experts will evaluate individual cases and handle the issue in a "more flexible manner," the Swiss team said.

"It's a positive signal," Stöckli said, otherwise given the high current case rates "we would have had to assume many athletes, no longer presenting any risk of infection, would have been deprived of their dream of participating in the Olympic Games."

Still, the team noted "very demanding" conditions to compete, qualify and prepare with the opening ceremony on Feb. 4, only 30 days away.

Stöckli acknowledged Wednesday "there will probably be disappointments" for athletes who end up being unable to compete.

Beijing organizers and the IOC are creating a health safety bubble for the Olympics with stricter testing and limits on travel and movement than were enforced at last year's Tokyo Games.

The rules include a 21-day quarantine for athletes, officials and workers not fully vaccinated, daily testing even for vaccinated people and also keeping local staff within the bubble.

International fans are again being kept away, though tickets to attend events in stadiums will be sold to people living in China.