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Canadian Olympic Committee made 'ethical' decision to withdraw early from Tokyo 2020

Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said Friday her organization determined it wouldn’t be ethical to attend Tokyo 2020 after numerous deliberations with experts and the athletes themselves.

President Tricia Smith says organization couldn't ask athletes to train amid pandemic

Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith, seen above in 2016, said on Friday the organization made an "ethical" decision to withdraw early from Tokyo 2020. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Canada's decision to pull out early from the Olympics was about the entire world.

Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), said Friday her organization determined it wouldn't be ethical to attend Tokyo 2020 after numerous deliberations with experts and the athletes themselves.

On March 22, the International Olympic Committee announced a four-week timeline to determine whether to postpone the Tokyo Games. One day later, the COC said it wouldn't send athletes to Tokyo unless the Games were delayed one year.

"When the decision of the IOC came down, which was 'we will now consider postponement,' I thought 'great,'" Smith told CBC Sports' Scott Russell. "And then we saw that they needed four weeks and we saw that they said that the July date was still on the table."

WATCH | Smith discusses COC decision to pull out of Tokyo 2020:

CBC Sports' Scott Russell spoke to president of the Canadian Olympic Committee Tricia Smith about the state of sport in Canada. 3:15

Smith, a 63-year-old Vancouver native, said she understood that the IOC couldn't just upend the Olympics "on a dime," but the COC's message to the IOC was clear.

"While you're deliberating as to whether you'll have some form of Games in July, we want you to know that if that happens, we won't ethically be able to send a team," Smith said.

"You need the time, but we have to make this decision as global citizens — for to control this pandemic is bigger than sport."

Two days later, the Olympics were officially pushed back a year due to health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the entire movement finds itself in reset and recovery mode. In Canada on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $500 million in emergency funding toward arts, culture and sport.

Rather than direct funding to the COC, Smith suggested the federal funding should head toward the backbone of sport in the country — the clubs in which every Olympian is raised.

"Canada is missing sport right now and so we're hoping that a good part of that $500 million will go to support that system of sports and those clubs and those entities that are going to be so important for the recovery of Canada and Canadians as we move forward," Smith said.

On a global level, the Olympic movement is something Smith said could improve itself through this crisis, even in ways as small as reducing carbon emissions by holding more meetings on video calls.

Eventually, the Olympic movement can become a symbol of perseverance.

"I think we'll come out of this and we'll go to an Olympic games and we have hope that we'll rise again and the Olympics will be something spectacular, because it'll show what can happen when we put the world first, when we all work together and in this case beat this pandemic," Smith said.

Fighting for women in sport

Smith, who won silver in rowing's coxless pair event at the 1984 Olympics, also sits on the IOC's women's commission. Growing up with parents that were both athletes, she said the thought that she couldn't do something just because she's a girl never crossed her mind.

However, after years ingratiated within Olympic sport, the gender inequality became more and more clear. Smith pointed to Trudeau's need to explain his evenly divided federal cabinet in 2015 as an example of how much more work needs to be done to end gender inequality.

"When that is no longer a no-story, then we are getting somewhere, but I am so happy to be in a country that really champions diversity and celebrates diversity. It's who we are as Canadians and it's certainly who we are as an Olympic community and a sport community," Smith said.

Smith had finished fifth in coxless pairs at the 1976 Games, but did not attend the 1980 Moscow Olympics after Canada and many other countries boycotted.

As such, Smith said she could empathize with today's athletes forced to wait a year.

"I think Hayley [Wickenheiser] said it really well: this is maybe the most important team that you've ever been on," Smith said.

"You're not alone. We're all in this together. We are all Team Canada."

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