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AthletesCAN claims IOC lacking in empathy as Olympic debate heats up

As the debate continues over whether the Tokyo Olympics should proceed as planned, an internal letter from AthletesCAN - the organization that represents all of Canada's national team athletes - is questioning the International Olympic Committee's level of empathy, as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Internal letter says Olympic organizers fail to recognize 'athletes as humans first'

As concern mounts over the fast-approaching Olympic Summer Games, AthletesCAN has expressed, in a letter to its members, reservations about the IOC's communication and lack of empathy towards athletes. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images)

As the debate continues over whether the Tokyo Olympics should proceed as planned, an internal letter from AthletesCAN - the organization that represents all of Canada's national team athletes - is questioning the International Olympic Committee's level of empathy, as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

CBC Sports obtained a copy of the internal email sent to all AthletesCAN members on Saturday afternoon.

Despite the growing spread of the novel coronavirus – that began in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, and that as of this writing has killed nearly 13,000 worldwide with over 300,000 confirmed cases – the IOC has repeatedly insisted that the Summer Games will open in Tokyo as scheduled on July 24, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25.


In recent days, the IOC's insistence has started to draw heavy fire. What began with a few dissident voices has quickly grown into a swell. On Friday, USA Swimming called for a 12-month postponement —a move also backed by Swimming Canada.

And on Saturday, USA Track and Field said it also supported a postponement. Soon after, the Norwegian Olympic Committee echoed these sentiments, saying the Olympics should wait until the COVID-19 situation is under control.

Against this unnerving background, AthletesCAN - raised its own doubts over the single-mindedness of Olympic organizers, and the increasingly muddy qualifying schedule.

"While we desperately want to believe that health and safety of all involved in the Games is the utmost priority for the IOC, IPC (International Paralympic Committee) and TOC (Tokyo Organizing Committee), at times, the communication has lacked empathy in recognizing athletes as humans first, and athletes second," AthletesCAN wrote.

The letter goes on to say, "We, as much as you, do not want to see the Games cancelled. However, we want to know that if push came to shove, no one's safety would be sacrificed, and unbiased, transparent leadership would prevail."

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With only 57 per cent of Olympics spots currently decided, and qualifying events falling like dominoes as the global pandemic continues to spread, many Canadian athletes remain in limbo.
 
With their Olympic dreams on the line, the internal letter suggests athletes are torn. The organization says they understand that "athletes are currently in a very unpredictable and difficult position. Especially as workout facilities and training centres around the country have been forced to close.

AthletesCAN writes that athletes are having to choose between listening "to public health authorities" and staying inside, or find a way to continue their training and "risk it for the sake of qualifying or doing well at the Games."

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"For those who are still working on qualifying for the Games, we understand the additional stress you must be feeling as you watch more and more opportunities to do so be cancelled or delayed."

The organization, however, goes on to stress that "as athletes, we are role models for Canadians and youth across the globe. Let us act as role models in solidarity with our neighbours and health care workers to do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus. Flattening the curve is a collective exercise - we must all do our part."

IOC attempts to ease athlete jitters

The IOC made a number of calls on Wednesday to reassure jittery partners, including one with more than 200 athlete-representatives from around the world.

"It was constructive in a way that everybody realized that we have still more than four months to go and we will address this action," said IOC president Thomas Bach.

"We said we were going to continue to be very realistic in our analysis." Bach said the IOC will continue to push toward Tokyo while "safeguarding the health of the athletes and contributing to the containment of the virus."

As Canada's athletes navigate these uncertain times, AthletesCAN also went on to echo Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comments on Friday regarding his "sincere appreciation for our health care workers on the front lines, especially those coming out of retirement."

The letter closes by encouraging Canada's athletes to be both resourceful and creative "in adapting your training and mindset to remain healthy and safe." And a belief that "the next few weeks will bring a significant amount of clarity on not only the Games, but a lot of aspects of our daily lives."

 

With files from CBC's Jamie Strashin

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