Basketball

Canadian basketball player may be forced to choose between infant daughter, Tokyo Olympics

Kim Gaucher may be forced to choose between the Olympics and her daughter. The Team Canada basketball player from Mission, B.C., gave birth to Sophie three months ago and is still breastfeeding, but family members of athletes are barred from attending the Tokyo Olympics due to the pandemic.

Kim Gaucher's 3-month-old child is still breastfeeding, but no family allowed in Tokyo

Team Canada basketball player Kim Gaucher, seen above with daughter Sophie at the Vancouver International Airport on Thursday, says she's being forced to choose between the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and breastfeeding her three-month-old daughter due to COVID-19 rules that prevent family from attending the Summer Games. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

With less than a month to go until the Olympics, Kim Gaucher may be forced to choose between her life's work and her future.

Gaucher, a Team Canada basketball player from Mission, B.C., gave birth to her daughter, Sophie, on March 19 and is still breastfeeding. However, family members of athletes are barred from attending the Tokyo Olympics due to the pandemic.

The new mom and athlete expressed her frustration in an Instagram video post on Wednesday night. 

"Right now I'm being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete. I can't have them both," said the 37-year old. "Tokyo has said no friends, no family, no exceptions."

Exception unlikely, IOC says

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) told CBC News on Thursday that it would be highly unlikely that "unaccredited people from overseas" would be allowed to attend.

"National Olympic Committees [NOCs] are responsible for the composition of their delegations at Games time, and the IOC is aware that a small number of them have been dealing with requests from athletes to bring their children on a case-by-case basis."

In a statement to CBC, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canada Basketball said an appeal was made to the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee to allow Gaucher's daughter and husband, Ben Gaucher, into Japan.

"In any other Games scenario, we would have long ago found a solution," the statement said.

"The Tokyo Olympic Games are understandably being conducted with an unprecedented focus on health and safety. This includes Japanese borders being closed to overseas visitors, family and friends."

The organizing committee said in a statement to CBC on Friday that it was "basically decided" that family and friends would be barred from the Games, but it remains possible an exception could be made.

"It is our understanding that no children stayed at Olympic Villages during previous Games. Nevertheless, there may be special circumstances, particularly with regard to infant children, and we will therefore continue to consult with the IOC and the [International Paralympic Committee] and solicit opinions from other relevant parties."

WATCH | Gaucher hoping to bring daughter to Tokyo:

Olympian, mother Kim Gaucher seeks exception to bring infant daughter to Tokyo

4 months ago
1:16
The Canadian basketball player is asking for an exception so that she can breastfeed her daughter Sophie during the Tokyo Olympics. 1:16

Gaucher told CBC News she was originally led to believe she'd be allowed to bring her daughter and husband to the team's pre-Olympics host city of Kariya City, Japan. But that soon changed.

"Once I heard that there would be no fans, I thought 'OK, no fans,' " said Gaucher. 

But she assumed they would make an exception for a breastfeeding mother. And if there weren't exceptions, "I assumed it would be made easier to get milk home and things like that."

In her social media post, Gaucher said she's tried all "the traditional routes" to be granted an exception to bring Sophie to Tokyo. She said in interviews with CBC News that the COC was sympathetic to her situation but hasn't been able to make an exception.

"Everyone says they're on board, but no one can do anything," she said.

Six-time Canadian Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser said she will not be attending the Games, instead offering her IOC spot to Gaucher's husband and child.

Court of Arbitration for Sports a possible next step

Erin Durant, a trial lawyer based in Ontario who is not involved with Gaucher's case, said the next step the player can take — after dealing with the IOC and COC directly — would be to consider taking her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

"If she says she's exhausted her options, it seems like her public posting and going to the media is sort of her last-ditch effort to get people to change their minds here," Durant said.

Tokyo Olympic organizers recently announced a 50 per cent capacity limit, meaning a maximum of 10,000 people will be allowed in each Olympic venue and will consist solely of Japanese citizens. No family or friends are permitted to attend.

"As we know in other areas of society, sometimes, uniform rules impact people much, much differently and can result in discrimination," Durant said.

Gaucher, right, is seen above alongside Team Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis at the 2016 Olympics. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, international media and sponsors will descend upon Japan.

"I started to become a little frustrated, because in my head I didn't know the difference between how is my daughter and me being able to breastfeed different than a sponsor, different than media," said Gaucher.

She previously competed for Canada at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and pondered retirement following the Canadian team's quarter-final exit at Rio, but ultimately decided in 2018 to return for one final Olympics.

She says the basketball team will be out of the country for 28 days for the Olympics, and she already skipped the team's recent FIBA AmeriCup tournament in Puerto Rico.

"I don't have enough milk in me to train as a high-level athlete, get my butt back in shape, and feed her all while stocking 28-day supply," Gaucher said.

'Make working moms normal'

Gaucher also said she's looked into shipping milk, a "complicated" option she's still exploring.

Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold was previously denied an Olympic spot as she was pregnant and post-partum during the qualifying period that was adjusted during the pandemic.

She's now taking her case to arbitration, fighting back against the IOC. A decision on whether she'll be allowed to compete in Tokyo is expected in the coming days. 

Gaucher also said she's heard from women's basketball players on Team USA who are trying to bring small children to Tokyo to no avail.

"Always having multiple stories is helpful when you're trying to convince someone to change their mind about a policy or when you're advocating for a case," Durant said.

Gaucher implored supporters to help in any way possible.

"It's 2021. Let's see if we can make working moms normal."

With files from Yvette Brend of CBC News

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