Coronavirus: Tokyo 2020 Olympic organisers respond to frustrated athletes

By Luke ReddyBBC Sport
Heptathlete Johnson-Thompson (left) and pole vault Stefanidi have expressed concerns on social media
Heptathlete Johnson-Thompson (left) and pole vault champion Stefanidi have expressed concerns

The International Olympic Committee says it has held "constructive" talks with athlete representatives about the coronavirus crisis.

President Thomas Bach admitted he was "confronted with many questions" over qualification and restrictions.

But he also insisted that "everybody realised that we still have more than four months to go" until Tokyo 2020.

The summer showpiece is still scheduled to begin on 24 July despite the cancellation of other sports events.

There has been mounting criticism from athletes, with the IOC accused of putting them "in danger" by insisting it remains fully committed to the Games.

Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi said the IOC was "risking our health", while Britain's Katarina Johnson-Thompson said training had become "impossible".

Speaking in an in-house IOC interview, Bach said: "We have just had a really great call with 220 athlete representatives from all around the world, it was very constructive and gave us a lot of insight.

"We aimed to continue being very realistic in our analysis. We will keep acting in a responsible way that is in the interest of the athletes whilst always respecting our two principles - the safeguarding and health of the athletes and contributing to the containment of the virus, and secondly to protect the interest of the athletes and Olympic sport."

A tweet from Matthew Pinsent calling for the Olympics to be called off

British four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist Matthew Pinsent criticised Bach's comments on Twitter,external-link accusing him of not properly listening to athletes' concerns and stating that postponing the Olympics is the best option for all concerned.

"I'm sorry Mr Bach but this is tone deaf. The instinct to keep safe is not compatible with athlete training, travel and focus that a looming Olympics demands of athletes, spectators and organisers," Pinsent wrote.

"Keep them safe. Call it off."

Earlier, in a statement, the IOC had warned "no solution will be ideal" in preparing for Tokyo 2020.

"This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions," it 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, and this is why we are counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes."

KJT feels 'under pressure'

Johnson-Thompson shared this image with the caption: "10 minutes left on these streets before France goes into complete lockdown"
Johnson-Thompson shared this image with the caption "10 minutes left on these streets before France goes into complete lockdown"

World heptathlon champion Johnson-Thompson, 27, is returning to the UK from her training base in France as a result of the country being in lockdown.

Tokyo 2020 organisers have pledged to deliver a "complete" Games but Johnson-Thompson said current guidance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is confusing.

She said: "The IOC advice 'encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best as they can' with the Olympics only four months away but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home, with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed.

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

"I'm in a very fortunate place given the circumstances. I'm healthy, well supported and I have already qualified for the Olympics. But at this moment it's difficult to approach the season when everything has changed in the lead up apart from the ultimate deadline."

All club training sessions, events, competitions, club committee and face-to-face meetings, athlete camps, running groups and social events have been suspended across England, Scotland and Wales.

'Our health is at risk'

Several athletes have joined Johnson-Thompson in pointing to confusion on how they should prepare.

British race walker Tom Bosworth told BBC Sport: "I don't think there is enough time to properly build towards a games, whether that is build athlete profiles, build the teams, allow people to qualify who haven't qualified and celebrate an Olympic Games in an Olympic year as it should be.

"I think for all involved, a slight delay is probably the best option."

Stefanidi, who won gold for Greece in pole vault at Rio 2016, said: "This is not about how things will be in four months. This is about how things are now.

"The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in four months."

Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC, has said the Olympic governing body's decision to "move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity."

Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) president Alejandro Blanco has told Reuters he would prefer this year's Games be postponed.external-link

About 57% of the athletes set to attend the Games have so far qualified.

On Tuesday, the IOC asked athletes to continue preparations "as best they can".

Jessica Judd, who represented Britain over 5,000m at the 2019 World Championships, tweeted: "How on earth are we meant to carry on preparing best we can?

"Will someone share with me what races we can do to get times and whether trials will go ahead and when training can return to normal?"

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted the Games will go ahead as planned in July.

Events including the handover of the Olympic torch in Athens have faced disruption.

At the time of publishing this article on Wednesday (10:30 GMT), World Health Organization figuresexternal-link show more than 184,000 people globally have been infected by coronavirus, with more than 7,500 deaths.

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