• AFP-JIJI, Reuters


International Olympic Committee member Hayley Wickenheiser said Tuesday that vows to press ahead with plans for the Tokyo Games are “insensitive and irresponsible.”

Wickenheiser, a member of Canada’s women’s ice hockey team, which won four straight Olympic golds between 2002 and 2016, made her comments on Twitter.

The 41-year-old IOC Athletes Commission member was speaking as the IOC said there was no need for “drastic decisions” over the staging of the July 24 to Aug. 8 event.

IOC and Japanese officials have insisted they are working toward staging the Olympics as planned despite the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” said Wickenheiser.

“We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let alone the next three months.”

Wickenheiser pointed to the disruption the pandemic had already caused to athletes preparing for the games.

Athletes have been prevented from accessing training facilities because of virus-related lockdowns, while others have seen key competitions and qualifying events canceled.

“From an athlete perspective, I can only imagine and try to empathise with the anxiety and heartbreak athletes are feeling right now,” Wickenheiser said.

“The uncertainty of not knowing where you’re going to train tomorrow as facilities close and qualification events are canceled all over the world would be terrible if you’ve been training your whole life for this.

“Athletes can’t train, attendees can’t travel plan. 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.”

In a later tweet, Wickenheiser expanded on her criticism.

“Should the Olympics be canceled? No one knows at this point and that IS my point,” she wrote.

“To say for certain they will go ahead is an injustice to the athletes training and global population at large. We need to acknowledge the unknown.”

Separately, reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi echoed this sentiment in an interview Tuesday, saying that the IOC is putting the health of elite athletes at risk by telling them to continue training for the Tokyo 2020 Games as the coronavirus rages.

“There is no postponement, no cancellation. But it (the IOC) is putting us at risk,” the Greek said.

“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,” Stefanidi added.

“We have to decide whether to risk our health and continue training in the current environment.”

The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stefanidi’s comments were echoed by Britain’s heptathlon world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who said she is returning home from a locked-down France and feels under pressure to train.

“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,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible.”

In its statement, the IOC urged athletes to continue with their training despite mounting speculation about the impact of the virus on the games.

“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,” it said.

“Any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive,” it added, less than an hour after European soccer body UEFA postponed its 2020 European Championship to 2021.

The virus, which has so far infected close to 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,500, has forced many countries into lockdown to contain it.

Stefanidi, a member of World Athletics’ athletes’ commission, was unimpressed.

“From January until now the situation has deteriorated dramatically and in the same period the IOC has repeated the same things,” she said.

“The IOC put us in a difficult position. How can we train in these conditions and these health risks,” Stefanidi, who is also a candidate for the IOC’s athletes commission at elections set for the Tokyo Games, said.

“The stadiums have been closed for a week. Tomorrow we may get a special permit to get in and train. But how can you train there, touching the same equipment and surfaces. And what about team sports, or gymnastics, or swimming.”

“I would like to see that there is a concern for the risk to our health. It is good to say that in four months it will all be fine. But what about now? I want to see what they do about now. I want to hear about a Plan B,” she said.

Stefanidi said the different levels of training had also created a potentially unfair advantage for some athletes.

She said some countries had shut all facilities, while in some other countries like the United States or Sweden, some facilities were still open.

“My rival Sandi Morris for example has been training the past week because her facility is still open,” she said.

“We have to have a realistic image from the IOC. They have to show that they understand.”

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