Canadian skaters will not necessarily go to the scheduled world figure skating championships in earthquake-damaged Japan this month, even if the sport's world body gives it the thumbs up.
Michael Slipchuk, performance director for Skate Canada, says their athletes will have the right to choose for themselves.
"We will definitely, in this situation, leave the decision to the athletes and coaches if they want to attend the championship," Slipchuk told Scott Russell of CBC Sports in an exclusive Sunday morning interview. "We would not make anyone go if they are not comfortable."
The International Skating Union will decide by Monday morning whether to continue with the championships, set to start March 21 in Tokyo.
Though assured by the Japanese skating authorities everything would be safe at 50-year-old Yoyogi National Gymnasium, concern over possible nuclear leaks or a meltdown at reactors damaged by the quake and/or the subsequent tsunami has left the ISU cautious.
At the same time, the Swiss-based group said in its release a number of countries had issued travel advisories for those going to Japan, and that also had to be factored in. Canada has issued an advisory, but not for the Tokyo area itself.
"Right now I think we're in a bit of a holding pattern," Slipchuk said, adding safety of the team is paramount. "We would never, ever put our team into any sort of dangerous, or harm's way, situation, so that is our No. 1 factor."
Worlds could be a boost
Doug Leigh, the legendary coach of three Canadian world champions in Brian Orser, Elvis Stojko and Jeff Buttle, said he hopes the event goes on, as it could be a boost to the Japanese people.
"If you can have something like a skating event go forward, that's positive, because it gives [those in Japan] something else they can focus on, too," he said, on the phone from his Barrie, Ont., home.
Leigh's Mariposa club has three skaters at the worlds, including Japan's Nobunari Oda, Canada's Joey Russell and Australia's Mark Webster.
Oda left Barrie on Saturday morning to head home for the worlds, and was not expected to touch down in Osaka, south of Tokyo, until Monday morning Japan time.
"We all have a tendency to imagine things worse than they really are," Leigh said. "But if somebody is going to stay on the safe side because there is really a [safety] concern then we all have to sit and wait."
The skaters themselves would not have a problem if the event were put back a few weeks, Leigh believes, because "everybody has ice [for practice], everybody has good coaches," and they are prepared.
Putting it back a month, however, would be a different story as the skaters have other commitments, such as to the Stars on Ice show, or other events national organizations may have booked.
Slipchuk was asked if Canada would be willing to offer a venue, such as London or Vancouver, to the ISU as a place to move the worlds, but he would only say his group would give whatever help it could once the decision on Tokyo is taken.
Skating insiders have pointed to Seoul, Korea, Beijing, China, or Turin, Italy as possible backup locations.