Coronavirus: IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser calls continuing with Tokyo Games 'irresponsible'

  • 18/03/2020

International Olympic Committee member Hayley Wickenheiser has broken ranks to voice their protests against the Tokyo Games continuing as scheduled in July/August.

With most major sporting events cancelled or postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, Olympic organisers insist they will carry on as planned with the 32nd edition of the Modern Games.

But Wickenheiser, who won four Olympic ice hockey gold medals with the Canadian national team, has branded this stubborn plan "irresponsible".

Now a member of the IOC Athlete's Commission, Wickenheiser, 41, is studying for her next career as a doctor and has posted a series of tweets voicing her concerns over the Olympics pressing ahead, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I've given this a lot of thought and over the past few days, my perspective has changed," she says. "I was voted to represent and protect athletes.

"This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics.

"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 in the next three months."

Her stand has found support from reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, who has accused the IOC of putting athletes "at risk" with its attitude.

Katerina Stefanidi winning 2016 Rio Olympic pole vault
Katerina Stefanidi winning 2016 Rio Olympic pole vault. Photo credit: Reuters.

"We all want Tokyo to happen, but what is Plan B, if it does not happen?" she told Reuters.

"Knowing about a possible option has a major effect on my training, because I may be taking risks now that I would not take, if I knew there was the possibility of a Plan B."

Stefanidi, a member of the World Athletics Athletes' Commission, is scheduled to participate in a ceremonial handover of the Olympic flame to Tokyo 2020 this week.

"From January until now, the situation has deteriorated dramatically and in the same period, the IOC has repeated the same things," she says.

On Wednesday (NZ time), the IOC reiterated there was no need for "drastic decisions" yet.

But earlier this week, French Olympic Committee president Denis Masseglia claimed coronavirus would need to be subsiding by late May, if the Tokyo Games were to proceed as planned.