Canada won’t have a team at the Tokyo Olympics unless the Games are postponed by a year — a bold move that would at least give Canadian athletes some sense of direction in the coming months.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee issued joint statements Sunday evening saying that they refuse to send their teams to Tokyo unless their respective Games are pushed back a year.
“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” the COC said in its statement.
“This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health. With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games.”
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to start July 24 with the Paralympics slated to follow on Aug. 25.
Six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, who serves on the International Committee’s athletes commission, believes the majority of Canadian athletes support the decision of the COC and the CPC.
The retired hockey player and winner of four Olympic gold medals, who is currently in medical school, hopes other countries follows Canada’s lead.
“I think in this country athletes today made a very unselfish decision,” Wickenheiser told The Canadian Press on Sunday evening.
“Not only for themselves, but for the rest of the sporting world, so that others that aren’t as brave can have a chance to step up ‘we really want to do the same thing’ and that’s what we’ll see.
“A decision had to be made. Training in limbo was not a smart thing to keep doing. Athletes will push through anything and find a way. It’s no longer safe or ethical to ask athletes to do that.”
Canada’s statement joins a growing chorus of critics around the International Olympic Committee’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
IOC president Thomas Bach said earlier Sunday that they’d set a deadline of four weeks to determine the fate of the Games, and that the global organization is considering options including postponement.
Cancelling the Games entirely, Bach said, is not being considered. It was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the IOC had admitted that it would consider other options.
Canadian athletes had mixed feelings about Bach’s four-week deadline — relief that cancellation wasn’t being considered, but anxiety still around the uncertainty of the Olympics amid a global health emergency that has brought the sports world to its knees.
“It’s nerve-wracking, you want to know when it’s going to happen,” said Brittany Crew, the Canadian record-holder in women’s shot put.
“So I’m happy that they finally made a decision to call it in the next four weeks, because it is unfair for (the IOC) to say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna go on in July,’ when we don’t know what’s going to happen with this virus.”
The IOC’s change in strategy comes after Bach’s conference call with the executive board.
The IOC said that they’re examining scenarios to modify plans for the Games to go ahead as scheduled on July 24, plus changes to the start date of the Games, adding that “cancellation is not on the agenda.”
“I think there was good news today saying that cancellation wasn’t on the table,” Crew said.
The IOC and Japan’s organizing committee had consistently said the Games would go ahead as planned. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the Games going ahead would be “proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus.”