LOS ANGELES (AFP) – USA Swimming has urged the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee to back the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games amid the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland, posted on USA Swimming’s Twitter feed early yesterday, Swimming Federation Chief Executive Tim Hinchey “respectfully requested” that the USOPC “advocate for the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 by one year,” to 2021.
“We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes,” Hinchey wrote.
USA Swimming made the letter public after the US Olympic chiefs said in a conference call on Friday night that more time was needed to determine the fate of the Tokyo Games.
USOPC Chairwoman Susanne Lyons said the American governing body agreed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that there was no need to make an immediate decision.
USA Swimming said Hinchey’s letter was the result of a conference call consultation with 85 national team athletes who expressed their concerns to the federation.
USA Swimming said social distancing protocols and the stay-at-home orders issued in some parts of the United States (US) in a bid to combat the spread of the deadly virus had already proved too disruptive to training.
“As this global pandemic has grown, we have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down and watched them struggle to find ways to continue to prepare and train – many for the biggest competitive opportunity of their lives,” Hinchey wrote.
“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritise everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognise the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations.
“It has transcended borders and wreaked havoc on entire populations, including those of our respected competitors. Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all.
“Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities.”
The US, long an Olympic swimming powerhouse, won 33 medals in the Rio Olympic pool in 2016.
Their ultra-competitive Olympic trials are scheduled for June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska.
But some of the sport’s biggest stars – including freestyle great Katie Ledecky – have seen their preparations disrupted as pools and other training facilities have been shuttered.
The USOPC responded to Hinchey’s letter in a joint statement from Hirshland and Lyons.
“The USOPC has complete and total empathy for the athlete community as they manage the terrible stress and anxiety caused by the current lack of certitude regarding the Tokyo Games,” the statement said.
“We understand that the athletes have concerns about training, qualification and anti-doping controls, and that they want transparency, communication and clarity to the full extent possible. The USOPC has made it clear that all athletes should put their health and wellness, and the health and wellness of the greater community, above all else at this unprecedented moment.
“At the same time, and as it relates to the Games, we have also heard from athletes that they want the Olympic and Paralympic community to be very intentional about the path forward – and to ensure that we aren’t prematurely taking away any athletes’ opportunity to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games until we have better clarity.”
Bob Bowman, the coach who guided swimming great Michael Phelps to 28 Olympic medals – 23 of them gold – said postponing the Games was the best option.
“It’s not only best from a performance statement for the athletes, but also for what these athletes are going through right now in terms of their mental health,” Bowman told USA Today.
“My concern is as they are trying to find places to train and workout, it goes against what we’re supposed to be doing to not get the coronavirus.
“It’s forcing them to try to do things that are contrary to our national goal right now. I think there’s a higher calling than just your athletic goals. It forces people to kind of work around those and that’s not good.”