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Road to Tokyo Olympics could lead to Pandora’s Box

Several grey areas regarding qualification will need to be ironed out

The decision to delay the Tokyo Olympics by a year is sparking both anxiety and hope among the world's athletes, as the coronavirus pandemic adds to confusion over who might qualify for the Games, now in 2021.

Legal experts warned of a Pandora's Box of messy legal challenges from athletes in the lead-up to the Games, as sporting bodies consider tweaks to qualifying criteria that could impact who gets in and who misses out.

"I'm sure there will be additions/subtractions," said USA Basketball chief communications officer Craig Miller about the names on America's "Dream Team" list.

"For example, I could see Zion Williamson being considered if he stays healthy and continues his strong play," he said of the first overall pick in the 2019 National Basketball Association draft who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The International Golf Federation will use world rankings to determine the Olympic field, potentially opening the door for Tiger Woods, who missed much of the season with back issues.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said that the 57 per cent of athletes who had already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games would keep their spots in 2021.

But, for the nearly 5,000 athletes who have not earned their place, the cancellation of the global sports calendar threatens to disrupt the qualifying process late into the year and beyond.

With pools, tracks and training facilities shut, along with widespread lockdowns around the globe, many sports federations were unable to provide a clear picture of what qualifying will look like.

To book a ticket to Tokyo, many athletes must still meet Olympic standards and/or rack up enough ranking points in qualifying competitions to be eligible for selection.

But the opportunities to do so could be severely limited by the pandemic.

That, warns attorney Howard Jacobs, who has represented cyclist Floyd Landis and sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, could lead to litigation.

Jacobs told Reuters: "Let's say a US athlete who qualified in the marathon at the Olympic trials in February... say they don't run the standard under the new window.

"Potentially, they would be out. I would think they would now have the ability to challenge that in the Court of Arbitration for Sport."

The IOC appears to have offered already qualified athletes some protection.

But national Olympic committees and sporting federations told Reuters that the assurances the IOC can offer are primarily connected to the number of spots allocated for each sport. Not who will fill them.

Some athletes, such as American marathoner Des Linden, have warned selectors not to mess with those who have secured Olympic spots.

Linden, who finished fourth in the US trials in Atlanta in February, narrowly missed out on Tokyo selection. But she was adamant that the results should stand, even though a redo would give her another shot at qualifying.

"Anybody suggesting the marathon trials be re-run, just stop," tweeted Linden. "Please don't crap on their parade." - REUTERS