LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The IOC will take up to four weeks to consider postponing the Tokyo Olympics amid mounting criticism of its handling of the coronavirus crisis that now includes a call for delay from the leader of track and field, the biggest sport at the games.

The IOC is planning meetings with Japanese public authorities, global sports officials, broadcasters and sponsors that will deal with scenario planning for the Olympics, which are scheduled to start July 24. Canceling the games is not under consideration.

IOC President Thomas Bach sent a letter to athletes explaining the decision and why it might take so long, while also acknowledging the extended timeline might not be popular.

“I know that this unprecedented situation leaves many of your questions open,” he wrote. “I also know that this rational approach may not be in line with the emotions many of you have to go through.”

But only hours after the announcement, World Athletics President Seb Coe sent a letter to Bach saying that holding the Olympics in July “is neither feasible nor desirable.” He outlined a number of reasons, including competitive fairness, the likelihood athletes would overtrain if given a compressed schedule, and the uncertainty caused by orders in many countries barring people from gyms and other workout venues.

“No one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but … we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety,” he wrote. “A decision on the Olympic Games may become very obvious very quickly.”

But probably not sooner than next month.

The IOC said the scenarios under consideration “relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on July 24, 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games.”

The change in strategy followed Bach’s conference call with executive board members.

Bach has consistently said organizers are fully committed to opening the games on July 24 – despite athlete training, qualifying events and games preparations being disrupted more and more by the virus outbreak causing the COVID-19 disease.

Criticism of the stance grew in recent days from Olympic gold medalists and by an IOC member, before Bach finally acknowledged an alternative plan is possible.

National Olympic committees in Brazil and Slovenia later called for a postponement until 2021. Norway’s Olympic body said it did not want athletes going to Tokyo until the global health crisis is under control.

The United States governing bodies of swimming and track – two of the three top-tier Summer Games sports – have called on their national Olympic officials to push for a postponement.

“There is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents,” the IOC said. “This led the (board) to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning.”

The IOC said last week that roughly 4,700 of 11,000 spots in the Olympics have yet to be allocated.

Bach acknowledged the problems that come with a compressed or radically altered qualifying schedule, but also laid out several reasons that the IOC could not rush to a decision.

It included the availability of venues that are scheduled for use this summer but might not be available at a later time, and the disruption of future events in the individual sports.

“A decision about a postponement today could not determine a new date for the Olympic Games because of the uncertain developments in both directions: an improvement, as we are seeing in a number of countries thanks to the severe measures being taken, or a deteriorating situation in other countries,” Bach said.

Before its top two sports federations publicly called for a one-year delay, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said on Friday it was not advocating for a postponement. Susanne Lyons, the board chair, said the governing body for Olympic sports in the United States agreed with the IOC “that we need more expert advice and information than we have today to make a decision.”

“Our Games are not next week or two weeks from now,” she said. “They’re four months from now. And I think a lot may change in that time period. So we are affording the IOC the opportunity to gather that information and expert advice.”

On Sunday, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency called for a postponement. Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, told The Washington Post: “We agree the Games should be postponed, unfortunately, up to a year in fairness to athletes whose lives have been upended and to ensure they don’t potentially become the dirtiest Games ever due to the significant reduction of anti-doping efforts due to covid-19.”

By acknowledging postponement as a possibility, the IOC has relaxed its tone while still holding onto hope that the Tokyo Games can go on as scheduled.

“It is our experience as athletes that you must always be ready to adapt to new situations,” Bach wrote. “For this reason we have, as indicated before, been thinking in different scenarios and are adapting them almost day by day.”

Bach did not outline possible scenarios. Many Olympic observers say a one-year delay might be the most likely option, though organizers might also consider a postponement of a few months or perhaps up to two years. While an Olympics has never been postponed, several have taken place later on the calendar, including the 2000 Sydney and 1988 Seoul Games, which both took place in late September, and the 1964 Tokyo and the 1968 Mexico City Games, which took place in October.

As concerns over the rapid spread of the disease have grown, pressure mounted in recent weeks for Olympic officials to make a difficult decision on an event that poses a massive problem for organizers and athletes alike. As they publicly encouraged athletes to continue training for this summer, Olympic officials privately discussed holding the Summer Games without spectators or rescheduling the world’s largest sporting event for a later date.

The Olympics draws together more than 11,000 athletes and 25,000 journalists from more than 200 countries – plus hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists – running counter to the practice of social distancing advised by public health officials. The Paralympics, scheduled to begin on Aug. 25, were expected to attract 4,400 participants from around the world.

Across the world, coronavirus has disrupted athletic schedules and canceled key qualifying events. As gyms and facilities closed down – including two U.S. Olympic training centers – many athletes struggled to find places to train. Still, at an IOC executive board meeting on March 3, a spokesman said the organization had not even discussed contingency plans and vowed the Games would begin on time.

Bach held a series of phone calls with stakeholders last week, sharing the same message, and the IOC issued a communique, saying “the IOC encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can.”

Inaki Gomez, an Olympic race walker from Canada, called the message “imprudent & reckless.”

“Particularly in countries where lockdown is in effect,” she posted on Twitter. “Message should be self-isolate or limit unnecessary contact, & we can worry about sport once situation has been contained.”

Postponing an Olympics is no easy task, involving numerous stakeholders, sponsors, countries, sports federations and national organizing committees. Experts say any sort of delay is likely to pose logistical problems in terms of the global sporting calendar and would also upend the schedules for athletes, who have been targeting the summer of 2020 and built their lives and training routines around peaking competitively this year.

In his letter to athletes, Bach called postponement an “extremely complex challenge.”

“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore,” Bach said. “The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”

The IOC has said it will rely on counsel from the World Health Organization and prioritize health and safety, but there’s also big money at stake and postponement could require heavy changes over major contracts. The Olympics are a costly undertaking and these Summer Games were expected to carry a price tag of $12.6 billion – though some Japanese estimates have suggested the actual costs would ultimately be much higher.

The Games also generate big revenue. The IOC, a nonprofit organization, brought in more than $5 billion during the most recent four-year Olympic cycle, nearly three-quarters of which came from broadcast rights. NBC, the rights-holder in the United States, contributes about half of that, and thus carries a lot of sway with the IOC. Comcast, NBC’s parent company, has said insurance coverage would ensure the network doesn’t suffer losses, though it would miss out on Olympic-related advertising revenue.

“There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October,” Dick Pound, a longtime IOC member, told the AP last month.

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