Coronavirus: Olympic champion blasts IOC for putting athletes ‘in danger’

Click to play video: 'Preparing for the possible cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics' Preparing for the possible cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Former Olympic swim coach Byron MacDonald explains what impact cancelling the 2020 Olympics will have on athletes and the sports world – Mar 17, 2020

Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi is warning that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is putting athletes around the world “in danger” by encouraging them to train during the global coronavirus pandemic.

“The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family’s health and public health to train every day?” Stefanidi posted on Twitter Tuesday.

“You (the IOC) are putting us in danger right now, today.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Health experts say it’ll take a ‘miracle’ for Olympics to go ahead as planned

Stefanidi, who won gold in pole vault at the 2016 Olympics for Greece, made these remarks the same day the IOC released a statement encouraging athletes from around the globe — including those whose countries have imposed strict measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 — to continue preparing for the Olympics “as best they can.”

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While the IOC statement recognized the “unprecedented” nature of the new coronavirus outbreak — even calling it a “crisis” — it reiterated the organization’s commitment to hosting the Games without delay or modification.

The Olympics are scheduled to run from July 24 to Aug. 9 in Tokyo. The Games typically bring together more than 10,000 athletes from 190 countries, plus hundreds of thousands of tourists and spectators.

“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 statement said.

READ MORE: IOC won’t discuss Olympic contingency plans despite coronavirus concerns

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But athletes from around the world, including Stefanidi, have begun to question the IOC’s response to the new coronavirus outbreak, adding that it’s about what conditions are like for people now, not four months from now when the Games are scheduled to begin.

“We’re trying to follow information with how to continue safely whilst reducing the risk to everyone around us and the information of the IOC and the local government are at odds,” British heptathlete and world champion Katerina Johnson-Thompson said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Canadian hockey star and Olympic champion Haley Wickenheiser also said Tuesday that the IOC was acting irresponsibly by refusing to acknowledge that the Games could be cancelled or delayed.

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“To say for certain (the Olympics) will go ahead is an injustice to the athletes training and global population at large,” Wickenheiser wrote on Twitter.

“The IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.”

IOC will not budge

Olympic organizers, including the IOC and Japan’s government, have refused to acknowledge that the Games could be delayed, cancelled or affected in any way due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

In its Tuesday statement, the IOC quoted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has repeatedly said the Games will proceed without delay or disruption.

READ MORE: ‘Insensitive and irresponsible’ — Hayley Wickenheiser calls out IOC decision on Olympics

“I want to hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly, as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus,” Abe said earlier this week.

Despite repeated questions from Global News and other media outlets, the IOC and its president Thomas Bach have refused to acknowledge if they have contingency plans for hosting the Games amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Shinzo Abe says Japan still preparing for 2020 Olympics, won’t declare national emergency' Coronavirus outbreak: Shinzo Abe says Japan still preparing for 2020 Olympics, won’t declare national emergency
Coronavirus outbreak: Shinzo Abe says Japan still preparing for 2020 Olympics, won’t declare national emergency – Mar 14, 2020

On Wednesday, the IOC declined to answer specific questions about whether it is putting athletes at risk by encouraging them to train and to prepare for the Games during a global pandemic.

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The IOC also refused to answer questions about its leadership during this time of crisis, and whether it is acting irresponsibly by telling athletes that the Games will proceed as scheduled.

READ MORE: Worldwide cases of coronavirus surpass 200,000 as borders close

With respect to concerns raised by athletes such as Stefanidi and Wickenheiser, the IOC said it is “counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes.”

“This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions,” an email response from the IOC press office said.

“The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes’ health. No solution will be ideal in this situation.”

Canada supports IOC decision

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said late Tuesday in an open letter to athletes that it supports the IOC’s choice not to make any “drastic” decisions at this time.

“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 letter signed by COC president Tricia Smith said.

READ MORE: Trudeau unveils $82B in aid for families, business amid coronavirus uncertainty

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“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.

“Sport, understandably and appropriately, ranks low in terms of these priorities.”

Click to play video: 'Swimmer reflects on missing 1980 Olympics as COVID-19 potentially threatens 2020 Games' Swimmer reflects on missing 1980 Olympics as COVID-19 potentially threatens 2020 Games
Swimmer reflects on missing 1980 Olympics as COVID-19 potentially threatens 2020 Games – Mar 17, 2020

The COC says the health and safety of athletes, coaches and support staff is its top priority and that all decisions will be made based on expert advice. It also says athletes should heed the warnings of federal, provincial and local governments, including recommendations that all Canadians abroad return home.

The COC did not, however, answer questions about whether athletes are being put at risk when encouraged to train and prepare for the Olympics during a global pandemic.

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It also did not address concerns that the IOC has failed to keep athletes informed about possible scenarios that could take place, including potentially cancelling or postponing the Games.

“The anxiety that athletes are feeling about the pandemic is much like anyone else’s, and although it includes hope for the Olympic Games, it is clear that hope for containment of this virus is first and foremost,” the COC said.

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