Four-time Olympic gold medalist: IOC’s conviction on Tokyo 2020 is ‘insensitive and irresponsible’

A four-time Olympic gold medalist is among those criticizing the International Olympic Committee for continuing to insist that the 2020 Tokyo Games will go on as scheduled, despite the global uncertainty related to coronavirus.

Hayley Wickenheiser, a former hockey player for Canada and current IOC member, wrote on social media Tuesday that the IOC's unwavering stance on the Tokyo Olympics is damaging to hopeful athletes who cannot train or travel. Obviously everyone hopes that the event can go on as planned, she wrote, but claiming as much without evidence is not helping.

"I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity," Wickenheiser wrote on Twitter. "We don't know what's happening in the next 24 hours, let alone in the next three months.

"Should the Olympics be canceled? No one knows at this point and that IS my point. 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."

Wickenheiser won four gold medals at Winter Olympics from 2002 to 2014 with Canada before retiring in 2017. She is also a member of the IOC's athletes commission, which serves as a conduit between athletes and the governing body. 

Several other top athletes echoed Wickenheiser's stance.

British heptathlete and reigning world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson wrote on Twitter that she is struggling to reconcile the IOC's recommendation, to continue preparing for the Olympics as normal, with that of her local government, to remain home and avoid public spaces.

"I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine, which is impossible," she wrote.

Greece's Katerina Stefanidi, the reigning Olympic champion in pole vault, told Reuters that athletes just want the IOC to be honest about potential contingency plans.

"We all want Tokyo to happen, but what is the Plan B if it does not happen?" Stefanidi told the news agency. "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.

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

As coronavirus continues to spread, the IOC said in a statement Tuesday that it is working with international federations to modify qualification procedures in several sports. The organization said it hopes to finalize those procedures by the beginning of April.

"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 in the statement. "Any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive."

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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