Athletes’ reaction as Tokyo Games still on despite coronavirus

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is committed to staging the Tokyo Games as planned from July 24-Aug. 9 despite growing dissent among athletes as the coronavirus pandemic brings world sport to a standstill.

Tokyo is due to host some 11,000 athletes. Following are reactions from current and former athletes to the IOC’s stance.

* Katerina Johnson-Thompson, British heptathlon world champion

"We’re trying to follow information with how to continue (training) safely whilst reducing the risk to everyone around us and the information of the IOC and the local government are at odds with one another," she wrote on Twitter

"The IOC advice ‘encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympics Games as best as 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."

* Hayley Wickenheiser, Canadian six-time Olympian, ice hockey and softball

"The insistence that the Games are going to happen in July is doing a disservice to people in the world first of all, and then athletes secondly who are trying to prepare. Humanity first, and sport always follows," Wickenheiser told Reuters.

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International Olympic Committee President Bach welcomes newly elected member of the IOC Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser at the IOC session on the final day of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Photo: via Reuters

* Hannah Cockroft, Britain’s five-time Paralympic gold medallist in wheelchair racing

"The closer and closer we get to it, we have to think about other people. My boyfriend is vulnerable to it, we have both got disabilities. And I want to think about my grandma, make sure she’s okay," she told Sky TV.

"So that’s the bit that worries me now, makes me think that we need to put a stop to this now and just say, ‘look they’re not going to happen this year’.

"It’s tough because we have put four years into this. As much as we don’t want to hear that news, maybe it would be the best news to hear right now."

* Katerina Stefanidi, Greek reigning Olympic pole vault champion

"There is no postponement, no cancellation. But it (the IOC) is putting us at risk," Stefanidi said in an interview with Reuters. "We all want Tokyo to happen but what is the Plan B if it does not happen?

"Knowing about a possible option has a major effect on my training because I may be taking risks now that I would not take if I knew there was also the possibility of a Plan B."

* Janja Garnbret, Slovenian two-time world champion in combined climbing

"Right now, we are a little bit, how to say, scared or worried if the Olympics will take place or not. My training is going full speed ahead. I am not stopping the training because of that (coronavirus)," Garnbret told Reuters.

British 800m athlete Guy Learmonth

"Purely from an athlete’s point of view, we need clarity, transparency and flexibility," he told The Guardian. "We have no idea how bad this is going to get and what we’ve seen so far might be the tip of the iceberg.

"Of course the IOC and the whole world wants a successful Olympics. But for that to happen I strongly believe the event needs to be postponed – unless the authorities can guarantee it’ll be business as usual, which I don’t believe they can."

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Guy Learmonth during the 2019 European Indoor Athletics Championships. Photo: via Reuters

* Jess Judd, British middle-distance runner

"How on earth are we meant to carry on preparing (as) 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?" she asked on Twitter.

* Sandi Morris, American pole vaulter and silver medallist in Rio 2016

"I personally believe the best call would be to postpone 12 months, but I understand why they are holding off on making a final decision," she was quoted as saying by CNN.

"Cancelling completely would be a travesty on so many levels… I’m hoping they will make the best decision for the world’s health, but I don’t see harm in waiting to the end of May or so to make the final decision."

* Matthew Pinsent, four-time Olympic rowing champion

"The instinct to keep safe (not to mention obey government instructions to lock down) is not compatible with athlete training, travel and focus that a looming Olympics demands of athletes, spectators organisers etc," he wrote on Twitter.

"Keep them safe. Call it off." 


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