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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Athletes slam IOC for keeping Tokyo Olympics on track

Olympians cite coronavirus risk and disruptions to training as reasons to postpone

World champion pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi has come out against the IOC's decision not to postpone the Tokyo Olympics.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- A growing number of athletes have voiced opposition to organizers determined to host the Tokyo Olympics as scheduled, citing health risks associated with holding the event during a global pandemic.

"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 4 months," Katerina Stefanidi, the current pole vault champion from Greece, posted on Twitter Tuesday.

Stefanidi's tweet came as Olympic officials appear resolute on not abandoning the Games. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, reiterated the organization's commitment to holding the opening ceremony in July on Thursday. Though Bach said the IOC is "considering different scenarios" amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, he maintains that it is "too early" to make a decision about postponing the games.

Furthermore, Bach has taken the wholesale cancellation of the Olympics off the table.

"We are not putting the cancellation of the games on the agenda," he said.

Olympic athletes around the globe are pushing back against the current schedule in a way that makes it hard for the IOC and the Japanese government to ignore.

Matthew Pincent, four-time British gold medalist in rowing, took aim at Bach's response to athletes' concerns. "I'm sorry, Mr Bach, but this is tone deaf," Pincent wrote on Twitter.

According to the IOC, 43% of the Tokyo Olympic slots have yet to be determined. The IOC and international sporting federations have reaffirmed plans to distribute the remaining places based in part on the results of qualifying games, as well as on world rankings and past records.

Bach said the IOC will ensure each athlete has a fair chance to compete in Olympic qualifiers, but it remains to be seen if the same athletes will be convinced.

The coronavirus has left hundreds of athletes without spaces to train. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee shut down training centers in Colorado and New York for at least 30 days on Tuesday.

Kaori Yamaguchi, the former judo Olympian and current member of the Japanese Olympic Committee executive board, touched on how difficult it is for an athlete to make up for lost time during an interview with Nikkei Thursday.

"If you take a one month's break from practice, it takes three to four months or more to recover," said Yamaguchi. "These are not the conditions for athletes to put their best performance on display," she added. Yamaguchi has called for the IOC to postpone the Olympics.

These sentiments were echoed Friday by Sadanobu Uchida, chairman of the Japan Boxing Federation.

"I believe it's best to hold proper qualification games, then hold [the gold medal matches] about a year later," said Uchida. Schedules for continental boxing qualifiers across globe remain in flux.

The IOC shares 90% of revenues to international sporting federations, national Olympic committees and event organizing committees. Apart from entities representing popular sports or advanced nations, most sporting federations and Olympic committees are strapped for cash, putting them in a poor position to challenge the IOC.

Top athletes are a different story, since they have considerable influence among fans. The IOC has no choice but to be sensitive to their voices, or the organization risks damaging the Olympic brand.

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