IOC insider slams ‘irresponsible’ Tokyo Olympic stance
ONE of the International Olympic Committee's own members has slammed the decision to proceed with the Tokyo Olympics during the coronavirus crisis as "insensitive and irresponsible".
It comes as Spain - one the countries hardest hit by the deadly pandemic - calls for the Games to be postponed for 12 months after the Euro 2020 football tournament was pushed back to 2021.
But the IOC is holding firm against the growing pleas to stop the biggest event in world sport from going ahead in the midst of the unfolding humanitarian crisis, issuing a defiant statement saying it was business as usual just hours after European soccer bosses relented and pulled the pin on Euro 2020.
"The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive," the IOC said.
While Japanese officials naturally backed the IOC's decision, saying G7 leaders were in support of the Games going ahead even though US President Donald Trump has said he thinks it should be delayed until 2021, past and present athletes went on the attack.
"This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics," said Canadian IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser, who won four gold medals in women's ice hockey.
Communique from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 https://t.co/EumE9qtROI— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) March 17, 2020
"Athletes can't train, attendees can't travel pan. Sponsors and marketers can't market with any degree of sensitivity.
"I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.
"We don't know what's happening in the next 24 hours, let alone the next three months."
Greek Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi went even further, accusing the IOC of risking the health of athletes by insisting they keep training as normal because the Games were still on.
"This is not about how things will be in 4 months. This is about how things are now," she tweeted.
"The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months."
This is not about how things will be in 4 months. This is about how things are now. The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family’s health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months.https://t.co/cICKVQ4qsZ— Katerina Stefanidi (@KatStefanidi) March 17, 2020
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and over the past few days my perspective has changed. I was voted to represent and protect athletes. As an IOCAC member, 6x Olympian and Medical doctor in training on the front lines in ER up until this week,these are my thoughts on @Olympics : pic.twitter.com/vrvfsQZ1GO— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) March 17, 2020
Apart from the added risk of athletes contracting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus during the Olympics, one of the biggest causes for concerns is that their preparations have already been severely disrupted.
Almost half of the qualifying places still haven't been decided, forcing international federations to find new ways of selecting the athletes that will go to Tokyo with dozens of planned qualification events either postponed or cancelled.
The training camps many athletes had planned to fine tune their preparations have been canned because of travel restrictions while many athletes have been unable to train at all because of lockdowns in the worst affected countries.
Spain's Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco said the only fair decision was to postpone the Games until 2021.
I understand that sport isn’t everything and there are more important issues sourrounding coronavirus but thought I would speak out purely on what my situation of it has been. Hope the UK, France and the rest of the world stay safe and look after each other in these crazy times❤️ pic.twitter.com/0zxECDetpM— KJT (@JohnsonThompson) March 17, 2020
How on earth are we meant to carry on preparing best we can? Will someone share with me what races we can do to get times and whether trials will go ahead and when training can return to normal?! https://t.co/K0qTeEYR3m— Jess Judd (@jessjuddxx) March 17, 2020
"The news that we get every day is uncomfortable for all countries in the world, but for us the most important thing is that our sportspeople cannot train and to celebrate the Games as planned would result in unequal conditions," he said.
"We want the Olympics to take place, but with security. We're an important country in the world and four months before the games, our athletes can't arrive in equal conditions."
British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson posted a tweet saying the IOC was out of touch by telling athletes to train as normal when the situation was anything but that.
"The IOC advice 'encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best they can' with the Olympics only four months away, but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed. I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible," she said.
Another British Olympic hopeful, middle-distance runner Jess Judd, also slammed the IOC as being unaware of the situation athletes face.
"How on earth are we meant to carry on preparing best we can? Will someone share with me what races we can do to get times and whether trials will go ahead and when training can return to normal?!
Irish runner Sonia O'Sullivan, who won a silver medal in the 5,000m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, said it was time for the IOC to make the hard decision now in the best interests of health and safety.
"You'd like to see the Olympics going ahead," she told Irish radio. "It's such a big, iconic event. It's a tough call, it really is.
"The fairest way, might be, to have the Olympics in 2021. A lot of people will probably lose a lot of money. Nobody wins if everything is cancelled, but already, everybody is losing."
Unless the coronavirus pandemic is waning by the end of May, this year's Tokyo Olympic Games cannot be staged on schedule, the head of the French Olympic Committee says.
"My feeling is that if we're still in the crisis by the end of May I can't see how the Games can happen (on time)," Denis Masseglia said in a telephone interview with Reuters on Monday.
"If we are beyond the peak and the situation is getting better questions will arise about who qualifies, but we will find the least worst solution."
However, the leader of the IOC's coordination commission John Coates, who will have to go into government-mandated self-isolation when he returns to Australia this week from Olympic business in Europe, told Nine Newspapers: "It's all proceeding to start on the 24th of July."
Masseglia, who is back from a work trip to Japan, added that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will hold a conference call with the National Olympic Committees on Wednesday.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July 24-August 9 with the Paralympic Games due to be held from August 25-Sept 6.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected almost 180,000 people and killed over 7000 worldwide, with the epicentre having switched from China to Europe. Sports competitions have come to a halt in Europe as part of a global effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, hampering the preparations of athletes for the Olympics.
"At some points we're going to have to tell them something (about the Games), Masseglia said.
Masseglia, head of the French Olympic Committee (CNOSF) since 2009, said however that Japan had been tackling the spread of the virus perfectly.
"A week ago, I couldn't even imagine the situation we're in today (in Europe). When I came back on Saturday morning (from Japan) I came back confident, optimistic, telling myself the Japanese had handled the problem a little differently," he said.
"They are in extreme precaution, there are water-based gels everywhere. Everybody wears a mask, they work almost normally."
Japan has had 895 cases of coronavirus, while the total in Italy, Europe's worst-hit country, had reached 27,980 on Monday.
"If we are out of the crisis in a couple of months everybody will want to get back to normal, it will speed things up and we will be able to imagine something," said Masseglia.