USA Swimming requested the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee advocate to Tokyo Olympics decision-makers to postpone the Games by one year.
In response, USOPC leaders, while prioritizing athlete safety and health, said the IOC, World Health Organization and the Japanese government should be given more time. The Opening Ceremony is July 24.
“They [the IOC] believe that it is premature to make a final call on the date of the Games,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland and Chair Susanne Lyons said in a joint statement, “and we believe that we should afford them the opportunity to gather more data and expert advice before insisting that a decision be made.”
USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey III, in a letter to Hirshland on Friday morning, urged for a postponement to 2021.
“There are no perfect answers, and this will not be easy; however, it is a solution that provides a concrete path forward and allows all athletes to prepare for a safe and successful Olympic Games in 2021,” Hinchey wrote. “We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.”
Hirshland and Lyons responded by saying they have “complete and total empathy” for athletes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many can’t train properly, including swimmers unable to find open pools.
“We understand that the athletes have concerns about training, qualification and anti-doping controls, and that they want transparency, communication and clarity to the full extent possible,” Hirshland and Lyons said. “The USOPC has made it clear that all athletes should put their health and wellness, and the health and wellness of the greater community, above all else at this unprecedented moment. At the same time, and as it relates to the Games, we have also heard from athletes that they want the Olympic and Paralympic community to be very intentional about the path forward – and to ensure that we aren’t prematurely taking away any athletes’ opportunity to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games until we have better clarity.
“The USOPC is in constant communication with senior leadership of the IOC and IPC [International Paralympic Committee] – and they have also expressed that their focus is on the health and well-being of athletes, and communities around the world, and that they will continue to rely on advice from the World Health Organization as they determine if it is necessary to adapt their position as the situation evolves.”
Hinchey noted swimmers’ worlds have been “turned upside down” after training facilities across the country were closed.
“Our world class swimmers are always willing to race anyone, anytime and anywhere; however, pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer,” Hinchey wrote. “The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations. It has transcended borders and wreaked havoc on entire populations, including those of our respected competitors. Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all.
“Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities.”
Earlier Friday, Lyons assured, “There is no circumstance when the USOPC would send our athletes into harm’s way if we did not believe it was safe.”
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeated the Olympics will not be canceled.
“Of course, we are considering different scenarios,” Bach said Thursday, according to The New York Times. “While we do not know how long the tunnel we are all in at this moment will be, we would like the Olympic Flame to be a light at the end of this tunnel.”
Hirshland and Lyons said the IOC, ahead of an executive board meeting next week, is polling National Olympic Committees on the impacts on athletes’ training.
“Rest assured we are making your concerns clearly known to them,” the USOPC leaders said. “The USOPC will be leaders in providing accurate advice and honest feedback, and be unfailing advocates of the athletes and their safety, and the necessity of a fair platform for the Games. You have our promise.”
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