Holding Tokyo Games a disservice to the world, says Wickenheiser

SHOWS: TORONTO, CANADA (MARCH 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IOC MEMBER AND SIX-TIMES OLYMPIAN, HAYLEY WICKENHEISER, SAYING:

"To be clear I think at this point whether we cancel, postpone, change the date, for me that’s not exactly as important as the tone in the messaging that we’re sending the world and the athletes in general. Nobody knows what’s happening with this virus today, let alone tomorrow, let alone four months from now. And I just feel that the insistence that the Games are going to happen in July is doing a disservice to people in the world first of all and then athletes secondly who are trying to prepare. We hear more and more stories everyday about athletes not being able to go their pools, to their tracks, to access training. They are concerned about training, about them being healthy but then bringing potentially a virus home to their families. I just think we have to have a lot more empathy and understanding about what is actually going on in the world. Humanity first, and sport always follows."

2. WHITE FLASH

3. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IOC MEMBER AND SIX-TIMES OLYMPIAN, HAYLEY WICKENHEISER, SAYING:

"If you are going to the Olympics and you are training, you want to know and go there in the best frame of mind possible knowing that you were able to do all the training that you could. A lot of athletes are not going to have that chance. I think that that is generally the concern. So to push it… the ramifications of course are huge. To push it, to cancel it, it doesn’t matter what happens. There’s going to be ramifications. Would I feel comfortable at this point about going there knowing that we could have done our best to prepare, I don’t think that a lot of athletes feel that way."

4. WHITE FLASH

5. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IOC MEMBER AND SIX-TIMES OLYMPIAN, HAYLEY WICKENHEISER, SAYING:

"I think we need to be showing more compassion and empathy for what the average citizen is going through. People that are scared to pay their mortgage, that have lost their jobs, that can’t feed their family right now. These are really things that are happening around the world. To me, to be talking about how we are going to quarantine the athlete’s village, it just doesn’t sit right with me at the moment. I know we have to keep preparing and keep moving on, but these are things… I just have a very difficult time… I have been on the frontline, I have seen people sick. I have seen how this virus is spreading. It just leaves me with a compassionate feeling for what is going on."

STORY: Six-times Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser said that holding this year's Olympics as planned in July and August would be a disservice to athletes and the general population considering the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping around the world.

The virus has brought global sport to a virtual standstill, with major events being postponed or cancelled as cases of the virus grow.

But organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have repeatedly said the Games, scheduled to take place from July 24 to Aug. 9, will go ahead as planned despite the rapid spread of the virus.

Wickenheiser, who represented Canada at five Winter Games in ice hockey and the 2000 Summer Olympics in softball, said the Olympic movement should be showing "more compassion and empathy" for the struggles people are expiring because of the virus, ranging from job losses to confinement at home.

"I just feel that the insistence that the Games are going to happen in July is doing a disservice to people in the world first of all, and then athletes secondly who are trying to prepare," Wickenheiser told Reuters from self-isolation in Toronto.

"Humanity first, and sport always follows."

Wickenheiser, winner of four Olympic gold medals, said athletes around the world will not be prepared to compete in the Olympics because lockdowns, self-isolation measures and global travel restrictions are derailing their training plans and pre-Olympic competitions.

"If you are going to the Olympics… you want to go there in the best frame of mind possible knowing that you were able to do all the training that you could," she said. "A lot of athletes are not going to have that chance."

Wickenheiser, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee's athlete commission, has nearly completed her studies to become a doctor and witnessed firsthand Canada's efforts to contain the virus.

"I have been on the frontline. I have seen how this virus is spreading," she said.

"To be talking about how we are going to quarantine the Athlete's Village (at the Olympics), it just doesn't sit right with me at the moment."