Canada's Olympic focus remains despite coronavirus fears, Marnie McBean says

McBean, who was named Team Canada's top spokesman last July, has been in steady contact with the nations' top athletes. Until told otherwise, she says its full steam ahead to the beginning of the Summer Games.

'There isn’t a gold medal that was won without some element of chaos'

Canada's chef de mission for Tokyo 2020 Marnie McBean, seen above in file photo from July, addressed the growing concerns over COVID-19 in an exclusive interview with CBC News on Wednesday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Despite the growing number of cancelled sporting events, Canada's Olympic athletes remain committed and focused on Tokyo, chef de mission Marnie McBean says.

In an interview with CBC News, McBean — who was named Team Canada's top spokesman last July — has been in steady contact with the nation's elite athletes. Until told otherwise, she says its full steam ahead to July. 24, and the beginning of the Summer Games.

Her message: "Focus on your training. There isn't a gold medal that was won without some element of chaos."

McBean a three-time rowing gold-medallist has competed in two Olympics and attended several others. There isn't much, she says, that's unfamiliar to her.

"The Olympics aren't tomorrow," McBean said. "H1N1 happened in 2009. The Vancouver Olympics were early in 2010 and we don't remember the Vancouver Olympics being at all affected by that pandemic.

"The middle of the summer is a long way away. Reactions are going to expand and I think the same way we're seeing in China, the reactions will contract."

WATCH | Canada's chef de mission Marnie McBean addresses COVID-19 concerns:

Canada's chef de mission preparing for on-time Olympics amid COVID-19 pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 6:51
Marnie McBean, Canada's Olympic chef de mission for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games is advising athletes to prepare for the Olympics, but also be ready to adapt to schedule changes if necessary, due to the spread of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the World Health Organization officially declared the growing outbreak of COVID-19 sweeping the globe as a pandemic on Wednesday.

Fears of the virus have already led to the cancellation of several Olympic qualifying events and tournaments. Last week, the women's world hockey championships slated to take place in Nova Soctia were cancelled. On Wednesday, the World Figure Skating Championships scheduled to take place in Montreal from March 18-22 were nixed.

Without question there are human lives and safety—that is the thing we should be talking about right now.- Marnie McBean

Later that day, the NBA became the first of North America's most prominent sporting leagues to suspend its season after a player tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

McBean, however, says athletes are a resilient bunch.

"If we go back to Sept. 11, everyone was saying 'because of terrorism there is no way that the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics can go on – how can that be?' Whether [it's] Zika, H1N1, traffic ... the host city isn't [going to be] ready.

"The journalists of the world are giving [COVID-19] some gas and talking about the Olympics. Without question there are human lives and safety — that is the thing we should be talking about right now. How do we contain this and control it."

WATCH | Bach, IOC remain committed to 2020 Olympics:

IOC committed to Tokyo 2020 despite coronavirus pandemic, says president

2 years ago
Duration 6:31
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, president Thomas Bach and the IOC remain committed to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Bach spoke at the Olympic torch lighting in Athens, Greece.

For McBean, the solution is rooted in teamwork.

"All countries need to be part of the solution here," she said. "All international sports federations are trying to be a part of the solution — trying to decide whether or not there will be spectators.

"We are going to figure out what our best case scenario is for our ultimate preparation right now. We are going to do what we can and what's available today, tomorrow and however this fast-pace story changes ... We're athletes and we are going to anticipate these changes."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?