Report: Olympic athletes bewildered by IOC's lack of coronavirus concern

With just about every sport under the sun suspending or cancelling events as the coronavirus outbreak continues, eyes have been turning to the 2020 Olympics.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

The Tokyo Games will go on as scheduled, Olympic leaders have repeatedly stressed. Just about any suggestion of a postponement, cancellation or alteration has been soundly rejected, even as qualifiers are delayed and athletes run into obstacles form the virus. Not even Japan’s Olympic vice chair catching the virus has changed anything.

Not shocking with billions of dollars on the line.

That tone apparently extends into behind closed doors in conversations with athletes and officials, some of whom aren’t sure about the attitude the International Olympic Committee has taken.

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Tokyo prepares for 2020 Olympics as coronavirus spreads
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Tokyo prepares for 2020 Olympics as coronavirus spreads
A man looks at an Olympic rings display installed off the shore of the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo on February 28, 2020. - The International Olympic Committee is "committed" to holding the 2020 Games in Tokyo as planned despite the widening new coronavirus outbreak, the body's president has pledged. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 26: A woman wearing a face mask walks past the Olympic rings in front of the new National Stadium, the main stadium for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, on February 26, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Concerns that the Tokyo Olympics may be postponed or cancelled are increasing as Japan confirms 862 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and as some professional sporting contests are being called off or rescheduled and some major Japanese corporations ask for people to work from home. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 24: Fireworks explode as Olympic rings are illuminated for the first time to mark 6 months to go to the Olympic games at Odaiba Marine Park on January 24, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The New National Stadium, a venue for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, is seen from Shibuya Sky observation deck in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. The Japanese government has indicated it sees the next couple of weeks as crucial to containing the spread of COVID-19, which began in China late last year. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Tourists take pictures of the Olympics rings Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
People wait in line to take pictures with the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A woman removes her mask before taking pictures with the mascots of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivers a statement on the COVID-19 situation during a meeting of the executive board at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne on March 3, 2020. - The COVID-19 which has already killed more than 3000 people in the World will be at the center of a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 3 and 4, 2020 in Lausanne less than five months before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
A cameraman films the Olympic Rings at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne on March 3, 2020. - The COVID-19 which has already killed more than 3000 people in the World will be at the center of a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 3 and 4, 2020 in Lausanne less than five months before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 01: A security guard wearing a face mask guards a road near the route of the Tokyo Marathon on March 1, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. The 2020 Tokyo Marathon has been restricted to elite runners only as measures get underway in Japan to combat the Covid-19 virus. A growing number of events and sporting fixtures have been cancelled or postponed while some businesses are closing or asking their employees to work from home. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also asked schools to close for around a month from tomorrow as coronavirus cases increase and concerns mount over the effect the outbreak will have on the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
This photo taken on February 29, 2020 shows a protester holding placards during a demonstration against the Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and nuclear energy, near the "J-Village" which will host the start of the Olympic torch relay in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture. - Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said on February 26 the torch relay scheduled to begin March 26 in Fukushima and travel across the country would not be cancelled, though he acknowledged adjustments might be necessary, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
This photo taken on February 29, 2020 shows a woman holding a placard during a demonstration against the Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and nuclear energy, near the "J-Village" which will host the start of the Olympic torch relay in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture. - Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said on February 26 the torch relay scheduled to begin March 26 in Fukushima and travel across the country would not be cancelled, though he acknowledged adjustments might be necessary, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
A masked security guard stands in front an entrance of the National Stadium, venue of the upcoming Olympics, in Tokyo on February 28, 2020. - The International Olympic Committee is "committed" to holding the 2020 Games in Tokyo as planned despite the widening new coronavirus outbreak, the body's president has pledged. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 27: A couple wearing face masks take photographs outside the Tokyo Dome where a number of events including pop concerts have been cancelled because of concerns over the Covid-19 virus, on February 27, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. A growing number of events and sporting fixtures are being cancelled or postponed around Japan while some businesses are asking their employees to work from home and some schools are closing as Covid-19 cases continue to increase and concerns mount over the possibility that the epidemic will force the postponement or even cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
A picture taken on February 26, 2020 shows the Olympics rings next to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. - The COVID-19 which has already killed more than 3000 people in the World will be at the center of a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 3 and 4, 2020 in Lausanne less than five months before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 26: A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks past a display promoting the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games on February 26, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Concerns that the Tokyo Olympics may be postponed or cancelled are increasing as Japan confirms 862 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and as some professional sporting contests are being called off or rescheduled and some major Japanese corporations ask for people to work from home. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 26: A woman wearing a face mask uses a smartphone as she takes a photograph in front of the Olympic rings at night on February 26, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Concerns that the Tokyo Olympics may be postponed or cancelled are increasing as Japan confirms 862 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and as some professional sporting contests are being called off or rescheduled and some major Japanese corporations ask for people to work from home. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - 2020/02/25: view of barricades at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic / Paralympic Village construction site in Tokyo. After the events at the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Yokohama Harbour concerning the COVID-19 Coronavirus and the management of Japanese authorities, voices were raised if the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games should be relocated to a different country. Sparking a discussion internationally. (Photo by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - 2020/02/17: Photos of women taken posing behind the Olympic Rings near the Japan Olympic Museum and the New National Stadium in Tokyo. The stadium will serve as the main stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and for the track and field events at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. (Photo by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A runner holding an Olympic torch practices lighting a cauldron during a rehearsal of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics torch relay in Tokyo on February 15, 2020. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
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IOC call baffles athletes amid coronavirus concerns

Several athletes and national Olympic committee representatives were left frustrated after a two-hour conference call with the IOC, which urged them to continue training for the Games while doing little to assuage coronavirus concerns according to The New York Times.

Among those reportedly on the call was IOC president Thomas Bach.

From the Times:

“The message was not, ‘Protect yourselves and protect your community,’ it was, ‘Find a way to train,’” Han Xiao, a table tennis player and an athlete representative from the United States, said in an interview. “Regardless of their intentions, their first priority is not the public health aspect of it. For me, it’s like, ‘Is that consistent with your values? Is that how you want to be perceived as a member of global society?’”

IOC officials reportedly sidestepped several questions and were vague in answering others, including those about alternative plans for the event, safety measures and training guidelines.

Among the biggest reported concerns were the organization not seeming to acknowledge the global impact of proceeding like normal. There might not be a single worse event in the world when it comes to spreading a virus amid a global pandemic than the Olympics, in which thousands of athletes and millions of spectators from across the globe would concentrate themselves in close quarters for two weeks.

A low point reportedly came when the IOC’s medical director Richard Budgett did not dispute once claim from a European representative that the coronavirus — which has killed more than 8,000 people as of Wednesday morning — as “not a deadly disease.”

Seyi Smith, the chairman of the Canadian Olympic Athletes’ Commission, reportedly felt the need to step in and reiterate the threat. He told the Times he felt the call was missed opportunity:

“It would have been great if they came on and said, ‘This is the biggest pandemic of our time, and we’re going to use our funds and influence to ensure that every country understands the importance of self-isolation, and while the Games can still happen, our No. 1 priority is the safety of the Olympic athletes and their families, alike,’” Smith said. “I’m trying to be fair and give people the benefit of the doubt, but that was not explicitly stated.”

Multiple people on the call reportedly asked IOC officials about a deadline on making a final decision to proceed with the games. They were told no date exists, and weren’t given any details on the decision-making (one member of the board has said such a decision could be made as late as May).

IOC facing a decision it never thought it would have to make

It’s not surprising the IOC has taken such a stance. The idea of even postponing the games a month would throw billions of dollars in contracts and sponsorships into absolute chaos. Publicly admitting such a thing is possible would be basically inviting it given the global perception of the virus.

However, the idea of going ahead with the Games as planned could be even more unconscionable barring a massive improvement in the world’s fight against the coronavirus.

It took Rudy Gobert testing positive to wake up the NBA and so many other leagues about the public dangers their games held. Before that surreal night in Oklahoma City, the only real measure the league had taken was barring media from locker rooms. One team was even telling fans it wasn’t liable if they contracted coronavirus at its game.

The NBA has since suspended its season, and several figures across the sports world have stepped up to support those affected by the pandemic.

It may take a similar incident to bring the IOC into the dark reality it faces. The Opening Ceremony remains scheduled for July 24.

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