TOKYO – Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission, has said that plans to go ahead with the Tokyo Games as scheduled despite the coronavirus pandemic were “irresponsible.”
“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity,” Wickhenheiser, a Canadian hockey gold medalist, wrote on Twitter.
“We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let alone in the next three months,” she said.
Wickhenheiser’s remarks, widely reported by Japanese media on Wednesday, come amid speculation about the possibility of the Olympic Games – scheduled to begin on July 24 – being postponed or canceled over the coronavirus global crisis.
“Everyone looks forward to an Olympics – fans, athletes, the media, the TV audience, the sponsors and marketers. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world (…) But, this crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” said Wickhenheiser.
Wickhenheiser was a member of Canada women’s national ice hockey team for 23 years and has won four gold and one silver Olympic medals.
The Canadian said as an athlete herself that she could imagine and try to empathize with the “anxiety and heartbreak” of athletes amid the “uncertainty of not knowing of where you’re going to train tomorrow, as facilities close and qualification events are canceled all over the world.”
“Athletes can’t train. Attendees can’t travel. Sponsors and marketers can’t market with any degree of sensitivity,” she said.
“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,” she stressed. “We need to acknowledge the unknown.”
The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the IOC have said they would go ahead with the original dates for the Games despite the global spread of COVID-19.
In a statement on Tuesday, the IOC expressed its full commitment to the Games and said that “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,” it said.
The committee expressed confidence that the measures being taken by authorities around the world will help contain the COVID-19 crisis.