IOC'S push to stage Tokyo Games insensitive to athletes: Wickenheiser

(Reuters) - Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser, a six-time Olympian, has accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of being insensitive and irresponsible for pushing ahead with the Tokyo Games in the face of a growing threat from the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: Nov 15, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Class of 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Hayley Wickenheiser shakes hands with hall of famers prior to a game between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Wickenheiser, who competed in five Winter Games in ice hockey and the 2000 Summer Olympics in softball, questioned the IOC’s full speed ahead approach to staging the July 24-Aug. 9 Games which she said had been done without acknowledging the challenges posed by the global pandemic.

“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” Wickenheiser said in a statement on Twitter. “Athletes can’t train. Attendees can’t travel plan. Sponsors and marketers can’t market with a degree of sensitivity.

“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.

“We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let along in the next three months.”

Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC’s athlete commission who is working towards becoming a medical doctor, has been on the frontline in efforts to contain the coronavirus in Canada.

She said she could only imagine the anxiety athletes were feeling at the moment and that it was an injustice to them saying for certain that the Games will go ahead.

Wickenheiser made the comments after the IOC met with international sports federations on Tuesday and stated it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months’ time despite the global spread of coronavirus.

“No one knows at this point and that IS my point,” said Wickenheiser, winner of four ice hockey Olympic gold medals. “To say for certain they will go ahead is an injustice to the athletes training and global population at large.

“We need to acknowledge the unknown. #COVID19”

Earlier on Tuesday, Greece’s reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi told Reuters the IOC was putting the health of elite athletes at risk by telling them to continue training for the Tokyo 2020 Games as the coronavirus rages.

“The uncertainty of not knowing of where you’re going to train tomorrow, as facilities close and qualification events are cancelled all over the world, would be terrible if you’ve been training your whole life,” said Wickenheiser.

“It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. It would be wonderful to look forward to.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and over the past few days my perspective has changed.”

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris