In a communique released yesterday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) says that with four months to go before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, there is “no need for any drastic decisions.”
In the communique, the IOC said:
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 encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can. We will keep supporting the athletes by consulting with them and their respective NOCs, and by providing them with the latest information and developments, which are accessible for athletes worldwide on the Athlete365 website and via their respective NOCs and IFs.
The IOC has confidence that the many measures being taken by many authorities around the world will help contain the situation of the COVID-19 virus. In this context, the IOC welcomes the support of the G7 leaders as expressed by Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who said: “I want to hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly, as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus, and I gained support for that from the G-7 leaders.”
The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Olympic qualification process for many sports, including triathlon. The International Triathlon Union has suspended all activities until the end of April which, since the qualification window for the games ends on May 11, will dramatically affect athletes’ ability to move high enough in the Olympic rankings to earn themselves a spot in Tokyo.
In an open letter released yesterday, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) supported the move by the IOC, but added some context:
“Earlier today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. With four months to go before the Games, it will refrain from making any further decisions at this time. We support this move by the IOC—we all hope and are continuing to plan for the Olympics to proceed in July—but our hope needs to be put in context.
The current pandemic is among the most challenging health issues that we have had to confront in many generations. Lives are at risk on a global basis, and there is an unprecedented level of worry and anxiety in our communities. Sport, understandably and appropriately, ranks low in terms of these priorities and we have seen many sport leagues and circuits suspend operations during this crisis without any clear sense of when normal operations will resume.
The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is focusing on what is in front of us and attempting to do all that it can to flatten the infection-rate curve. We will continue to take all steps to protect the health of everyone and work to contain the spread of the virus. All of us play a critical role in mitigating the spread and transmission of the virus, as we follow the recommendations of Health Canada and the World Health Organization. COVID-19 is a constantly evolving situation and is a threat to which many countries are having to adapt. Nobody can know what the coming days, weeks and months will hold. We will do our part.”
There are still 43 per cent of the Olympic places for Tokyo to be qualified and with the cancellation of many qualifying races, tournaments and competitions, the IOC “has put in place an expedited process to clarify new procedures so athletes can prepare.” Sports federations are expected to clarify their qualifying procedures for Tokyo by the end of April.
Athletes push back
While triathletes might be struggling to swim as many pools are shut down, cycling and run training is still possible. Athletes on teams or involved in sports that require specific facilities are finding it difficult to continue their training and many have spoken out that the IOC’s position is “insenstive.”
One of those, former Canadian hockey star, Hayley Wickenheiser, is a member of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission. In a tweet posted yesterday afternoon she said that “the IOC insisting this (the Olympics) 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 in the next three months.
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
Canadian runner, Charles Philibert-Thiboutot was quoted in a story by Canadian Press with similar concerns, saying “his thoughts were with small business owners and others struggling.”
“Those people are the ones that are really taking a beating,” he said. “When you’re aware of that, all these people that have businesses, people who will be laid off … and then the IOC is just kind of like, ‘We’re still going to have the Games,’ I just think it’s insensitive at this point,” he said.
“There are things much greater than that. And for the health and safety of anyone, I don’t think it’s very considerate on their part. (Athletes) are struggling, but there a lot of people out there struggling more than we do.”
Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi from Greece was also critical of the communique:
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
We’ll have to see if the optimism shown by the IOC, the COC and Tokyo Olympic committee plays out with an Olympic celebration this summer. As we, here in Canada, face an escalation of measures to try and curb the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19, we applaud Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s goal to “host the games perfectly … as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus,” but it seems like it will be quite a challenge.