Katarina Johnson-Thompson has questioned advice that athletes should continue their preparations for Tokyo 2020 “as best they can” as the International Olympic Committee came under fire for insisting it remains “fully committed” to delivering the Games this summer despite the coronavirus outbreak.
The IOC insisted it was planning ahead as normal after holding consultations with sporting federations, the first in a series of talks which will continue with national Olympic committees, athletes’ representatives, the International Paralympic Committee and others in the coming days.
“The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive,” it said in a statement.
“The IOC encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can.”
But that brought a critical response from a number of athletes, while Canada’s ex-Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, now a member of the athletes’ commission, said the IOC must acknowledge uncertainty over the Games.
Johnson-Thompson questioned how the IOC’s advice could be squared with the reality many athletes find themselves facing with several countries on lockdown, facilities closed, and competitions cancelled or postponed.
The 27-year-old Team GB heptathlete posted a message on social media, saying she was heading back to the UK from France, where she had been left unable to train due to the closure of facilities, with a planned race and training camp in the United States having already been cancelled.
“We’re trying to follow information with how to continue safely whilst reducing the risk to everyone around us and the information of the IOC and local government are at odds with one another,” Johnson-Thompson wrote.
“The IOC advice ‘encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best 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.”
British middle distance runner Jess Judd also criticised the IOC’s statement.
“How on earth are we meant to carry on preparing best we can?” Judd, the former world junior silver medallist over 800 metres, wrote on Twitter.
“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?!”
Wickenheiser said it was too soon to say the Olympics should be postponed, but said “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.”
“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” Wickenheiser, a former hockey player with four Winter Olympic gold medals to her name, said in a lengthy post.
“Athletes can’t train. Attendees can’t travel plan. Sponsors and marketers can’t market with any 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 alone the next three months.”
In its statement, the IOC said it was seeking to resolve the uncertainty created by the postponement or cancellation of qualifying events for the Games.
As it stands, only 57 per cent of the Olympic field has been determined, and the IOC said it was ready to work with international federations to adapt their schedules as necessary, while not ruling out increasing the size of athlete quotas.
Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, this week said he had the support of G-7 nations to deliver the Games “as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus”.
The IOC said it would continue to monitor the situation “24/7” in order to safeguard the health of all participants and to safeguard the interests of athletes and of Olympic sport ahead of the Games, which are due to open on July 24.
IOC president Thomas Bach said: “The health and well-being of all those involved in the preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is our number-one concern.
“All measures are being taken to safeguard the safety and interests of athletes, coaches and support teams.
“We are an Olympic community; we support one another in good times and in difficult times. This Olympic solidarity defines us as a community.”