Canada's delegation parade during the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. Canadian Olympic officials say they won't send a team to to the Tokyo Games this summer as coronavirus fears put athletes in 'impossible position'

Montreal (AFP) - Canadian Olympic chiefs said Monday the health and safety of athletes had prompted the country’s decision to withdraw its team from the Tokyo Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A day after Canada became the first team to announce its withdrawal from the July 24-August 9 Games, Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) chief David Shoemaker said athletes had been left in an “impossible position.”

With public health authorities urging individuals to stay inside to curb the spread of COVID-19, athletes had been caught between a desire to heed health and safety advice while trying to minimise disruption to training programs.

“What we started to hear a fair bit was how this put tremendous pressure on our athletes who frankly were being torn by conflicting messages,” Shoemaker told AFP.

“On the one hand to do what they needed to do for their health and safety and that of their families and communities, and at the same time keep an eye on their training and the possibility that the Olympics could still occur in July.

“We felt that athletes were being placed in an impossible position and it wasn’t appropriate to ask athletes to put themselves at risk, to put their families at risk and their communities at risk, by still thinking that they had to get themselves ready for Tokyo.

“So in effect we told them to stand down … we thought it was time to stop focusing on gold medals and start focusing on the health of athletes and their families and of Canadians.”

The COC’s statement on Sunday specified a refusal to take part in a Games staged in the “summer of 2020” – in theory leaving the door open to participation at an Olympics scheduled later this year.

Shoemaker however said Monday that Canada’s preference was for a one-year postponement, expressing doubt that the Games could be rearranged in any other window in 2020.

“Our strongest recommendation is that the Games be rescheduled for the summer of 2021,” Shoemaker said. “We think it gives the greatest chance for the solutions to this terrible pandemic and also because it allows for the greatest possible amount of time to prepare for a postponed games.

“The seasonality would match up as opposed to trying to take the games into a month where it had not been anticipated. We’re sceptical of a games being rescheduled for later on in 2020.”