MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has said athletes who have already qualified for the Tokyo Games are assured of their spots when the global sporting showpiece takes place in 2021.

The 2020 Olympics were pushed back by a year on Tuesday due to the coronavirus pandemic which has disrupted qualifying for thousands of Tokyo hopefuls in a slew of sports.

Almost 60% of the 11,000-odd athletes set for Tokyo had already qualified but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has yet to clarify publicly whether their 2021 berths are assured.

AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said qualified athletes were guaranteed their 2021 spots, however.

“That is our understanding at this time,” Carroll told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

“Athletes may change their minds between now and 2021. But let’s cover that off.

“Today the most important thing is that athletes have certainty for those who have been selected and certainty for those who are yet to qualify.”

Carroll said he had spoken to the chief of Australia’s national institute of sport and the heads of the sports federations about ensuring qualified athletes would be in peak form to compete in 2021.

“Therein does lie a challenge for the high performance structures at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sports) and our sports to work with our athletes to meet those challenges,” he said.

“If you’re talking about the athletes who have been selected or the ones who are coming through, I am sure all selected athletes will work hard to be at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

“That’s their nature and I have no doubt about that.”

Carroll said soccer’s global governing body FIFA and the IOC would need to work together to iron out qualification issues for the Olympic tournament given that a number of qualified players could become ineligible due to age restrictions.

The tournament allows only three players per national squad to be above 23-years-old.

“This is hopefully a once-in-history event, postponement of the Games,” he said.

“So I think we’re good working together, (good) relationships together, we can get over all those technical details and are sure that people who have qualified will remain qualified.”

Working out qualifying for the remaining athletes remains a challenge for organisers, given the dates for the postponed Games remains up in the air.

The United States wasted little time in delaying qualifying, putting off athletics, swimming and gymnastics trials on Tuesday while they await clarity on the Olympic schedule.

Carroll said he was confident Japan would be able to work through the “huge logistical challenge” of rescheduling.

“At least we have a new goal and planning has started,” he said.

“For the IOC, it’s working with the international federations because it’s an entire shift in the planning for global events such as world championships, world cups, all those sorts of things will have to be worked through.”

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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