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 roundly 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.

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 more dangerous 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 one 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 president Thomas Bach was reportedly on the call that left several athletes with more questions than answers. (Xinhua/Chen Yichen via Getty Images)
IOC president Thomas Bach was reportedly on the call that left several athletes with more questions than answers. (Xinhua/Chen Yichen via Getty Images)

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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