#stopolympics Picks Up The Pace

Courtesy of USA Swimming, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

When U.S. President Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week Friday, senior Japanese government spokesman Naoki Okada said, “The prime minister said firmly that he wanted to win the battle with coronavirus and make this summer’s Olympics a success.”

There are growing calls for the postponement of the Olympics. Initially led by Nuoto.com Editor in Chief Federico Gross with his #stopolympics campaign, the push for postponement picked up a lot of stream and influence with the following letter from Tim Hinchey III, the CEO of USA Swimming to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee issued a response to USA Swimming’s call to postpone the 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games in Tokyo. As of this writing, the Games are still on for a July 24 start in 127 days.

Sarah Hirshland (USOPC CEO) and Susanne Lyons (USOPC Chair) issued the following statement:

As a leader to our 400,000 members and many of the world’s top Olympic champions, I feel compelled to speak out about the pending Olympic Games in Tokyo in July 2020.

Our top priority at USA Swimming has been, and will continue to be, the health and safety of our athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers and other members.

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.

Our world class swimmers are always willing to race anyone, anytime and anywhere; however, pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer.

The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize 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.

It is with the burden of these serious concerns that we respectfully request that the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee advocate for the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 by one year.

There are no perfect answers, and this will not be easy; however, it is a solution that provides a concrete path forward and allows all athletes to prepare for a safe and successful Olympic Games in 2021.

We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.

Respectfully,

Tim Hinchey III
USA Swimming Chief Executive Officer

Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi wrote in response to Hinchey’s appeal, “We are very much aligned with many of the points USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey has raised. Telling athletes to prepare for an Olympic Games during a global pandemic raises serious issues. We hold the opinions of our brothers and sisters at USA Swimming in high regard, and share many of the same concerns around health and safety. That includes the safety and well-being of our athletes – both physically and mentally – and the safety of the community at large.

Each day that goes by without a decision creates more stress and anxiety for our athletes, who are worried not only about themselves but about their communities.

In the sport of swimming it is extremely difficult to maintain training without pools, which are closed across the country and in many countries worldwide. Our athletes have worked for years to pursue their Olympic and Paralympic dreams on a level playing field against the best in the world. They are doing their very best to adapt to the changes they are facing to their normal daily training environment, which is a testament to their character.

We have had consistent communication through the proper channels at the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee. We understand that they are working day and night with the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to express Canadian feedback, concerns and ideas about the health and welfare of our athletes, coaches and support staff. We have been in mutual dialogue almost daily with the CEOs at the COC, David Shoemaker, and CPC, Karen O’Neill. We understand that they are fully engaged and working diligently to push the process towards a decision that is safe for not only our national teams, but Canadians and the global population in general.

We understand the IOC is going through an intensive process and are encouraged to hear IOC President Thomas Bach is considering different scenarios. We are looking forward to this process moving forward and hearing more from the IOC in the near future. The COC in an open letter dated March 17 identified that the hope for the Games must be put in context with the lives at risk on a global basis, and noted the challenges athletes face by being unable to train. The COC and CPC have been open to our feedback and are being true partners through positive dialogue and transparency.

We thank all our partners, including the COC, CPC, and Government of Canada, for their full engagement in ensuring that Canada is taking into account the safety, health and welfare of all athletes, coaches and support staff. Our leaders are working extremely hard on these important issues to advise the IOC to choose the right solution among the various alternatives.”

Similarly, the British Olympic Association published its stance, “Everyone at the British Olympic Association (BOA) recognises the unprecedented times we are currently facing. Our primary concern is for those in our society dealing with the impact of COVID-19, specifically anyone affected directly by the virus, and the countless individuals and organisations that are working tirelessly to protect our communities.

This is a fast moving and developing international crisis with very serious consequences, and we appreciate that sport is of a secondary importance when it comes to the health and wellbeing of the population. Following conference calls that have taken place between the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Federations, National Olympic Committees and athletes’ representatives this week, we are determined to work with our international Olympic colleagues to ensure we find the most appropriate outcome for the Games, scheduled for four months’ time, in light of the growing seriousness of COVID-19.

For many athletes, in common with their contemporaries across the world, preparation and/or qualification journeys are now being affected. Whilst we acknowledge the IOC are doing their best to ensure that the qualification process remains fair for all athletes across all sports, we are in regular dialogue with them on this matter, as it is clear there are significant challenges developing in training and qualification programmes that will have a major impact between now and the Games.

It is imperative to preserve competitive integrity for athletes, but it is clearly only wise for athletes to continue to prepare for the Games where it is safe and appropriate to do so, within relevant Government and public health guidelines.

As of the date of this statement (19 March 20), the IOC and the local Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (TOCOG), have confirmed there is no change to the status of the Games happening between 24 July – 9 August 2020. The BOA will support the ongoing decision-making process and input wherever necessary.

However, we can be categorically clear that we will not endanger the health and wellbeing of the athletes or wider delegation at any point.

We will remain in regular contact with TOCOG, the IOC and British Embassy in Tokyo, as well as our National Governing Bodies, agencies and athletes’ commission and will continue to follow Government, World Health Organisation and Public Health England guidelines in monitoring any ongoing change of advice over the course of the next four months.”

Australia’s head swimming coach Jacco Verhaeren issued the following message, “In Europe they live in circumstances where some countries are in lockdown, meaning you can’t go out anymore at all, not even for a casual walk on the street and that’s getting stricter by the hour there.

A specific situation, and of course I’m close to the Netherlands and getting a lot of information from there, is that they (have) actually shut down all their high-performance centres as is the case in France, as is the case in Germany and many other countries, and of course Italy.

The situation is severe and although we can’t look into the future here and won’t but we need to be ready also in Australia for what’s coming.

Our message is to make sure we show empathy with our peers, colleagues but also all the people in the world, businesses that are hurt, people losing their jobs and all kinds of things happening that a few months ago we couldn’t even imagine.

I think we all know what an Olympics stands for…

Of course you come across challenges, setbacks, injuries, illness. But this far exceeds this. There is obviously a massive disadvantage for athletes around the world now for athletes that are not in a position and whole countries that are not in a position to prepare themselves for anything, really.”

Why are the opinions and recommendations of USA Swimming important and influential, including with NBC that paid the IOC US$1.45 billion for the broadcast rights for the 2020 Tokyo Games? Because swimmers have historically dominated the American Olympic medal count and the sport of swimming is one of the most popular sports – with track & field, gymnastics, women’s beach volleyball and triathlon – for NBC to televise the Olympics in the U.S.:

Top 10 American Medalists in History
1. Michael Phelps (swimming) 28 medals (23 gold + 3 silver + 2 bronze)
2. Jenny Thompson (swimming) 12 medals (8 gold + 3 silver + 1 bronze)
3. Ryan Lochte (swimming) 12 medals (6 gold + 3 silver + 3 bronze)
4. Dara Torres (swimming) 12 medals (4 gold + 4 silver + 4 bronze)
5. Natalie Coughlin (swimming) 12 medals (3 gold + 4 silver + 5 bronze)
6. Mark Spitz (swimming) 11 medals (9 gold + 1 silver + 1 bronze)
7. Matthew Biondi (swimming) 11 medals (8 gold + 2 silver + 1 bronze)
8. Carl Osburn (shooting) 11 medals (5 gold + 4 silver + 2 bronze)
9. Carl Lewis (track & field) 10 medals (9 gold + 1 silver)
10. Gary Hall, Jr. (swimming) 10 medals (5 gold + 3 silver + 2 bronze)

With the strong voice of USA Swimming in line with Swimming Canada and many similar European delegations due to the coronavirus pandemic, it appears that the 10 male and 10 female Olympics 10 km marathon swim qualifiers will have to wait (at least) another year for a shot at the Olympic podium.

Olympic 10 km Marathon Swim Qualifiers – Top 10 Men from 2019 FINA World Championships:
1. Florian Wellbrock (Germany) 1:47:55.90
2. Marc-Antoine Olivier (France) 1:47:56.10
3. Rob Muffels (Germany) 1:47:57.40
4. Kristóf Rasovszky (Hungary) 1:47:59.50
5. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA) 1:48:01.00
6. Gregorio Paltrinieri (Italy) 1:48:01.00
7. Ferry Weertman (Netherlands) 1:48:01.90
8. Alberto Martinez (Spain) 1:48:02.20
9. Mario Sanzullo (Italy) 1:48:04.70
10. David Aubry (France) 1:48:05.10

Olympic 10 km Marathon Swim Qualifiers – Top 10 Women from 2019 FINA World Championships:
1. Xin Xin (China) 1:54:47.20
2. Haley Anderson (USA) 1:54:48.10
3. Rachele Bruni (Italy) 1:54:49.90
4. Lara Grangeon (France) 1:54:50.00
5. Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil) 1:54:50.50
6. Ashley Twichell (USA) 1:54:50.50
7. Kareena Lee (Australia) 1:54:50.50
8. Finnia Wunram (Germany) 1:54:50.70
9. Leonie Beck (Germany) 1:54:51.00
10. Sharon van Rouwendaal (Netherlands) 1:54:51.10

See updates on the IOC decision about the timing of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics here.

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