As the lead of the World Para-Athletics Athlete Advisory Group, I regularly take part in Global Athlete Rep calls with the IPC and the Athlete Council. The latest call took place yesterday, with updates and discussions focusing on the issues arising from the Corona Virus Pandemic.
The loud and clear message is that, at the present moment, Tokyo 2020 is going ahead as planned and all efforts are geared towards making this happen. There are no other plans apart from Plan A – which is for the games to run this summer – There aren’t any contingency plans or any deadlines in place for final decisions. This does seem a little concerning given the current situation which is currently a global crisis with many countries in lock down. What I would say is that the stance of the IOC and Japanese Government reflects how difficult, indeed how almost impossible it would be to delay or postpone the games, and how catastrophic it would be to cancel them.
I can say that there are a lot of people are working very hard and discussions are taking place regularly between the IPC and all stakeholders. This situation though is unprecedented, very complex and is changing all the time. Nobody knows the answers to all the questions and any answers we do have are likely to go out of date very quickly.
It is obviously a frustrating time for everyone involved in professional sport, particularly for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Olympics and Paralympics don’t come round often and for many athletes this is the most important year of their career and life, to have preparations compromised just a few months before the games is hard to process.
I’m no different, I plan every year with my team very carefully and in fine detail. I was all set and revved up to start my season in Dubai last weekend so it’s a bit strange have to back off training and to think that I might not compete until June or July and may have to find creative ways train within the confines of social distancing and self isolation. However I do think we have to realise that this crisis goes beyond sport and is ultimately about protecting the human race from a nasty virus that has the potential to kill a lot of people. All athletes are in the same boat, I’m trying to re-frame it in a positive way and use this experience as a way to develop my resilience and come up with creative ways to stay in shape and get prepared whilst being at home – this could help me in years to come.
There are many profound and difficult challenges to overcome if the games are to be held this summer, not least around qualification and classification. It’s impossible to have definitive solutions while the crisis is still escalating and evolving but I think the authorities should be prepared for all eventualities, and to have not even considered a Plan B in the event of postponement or cancellation is a bit surreal to me and shows a lack of foresight, responsibility and leadership – it’s like the IOC and Japanese Government have their heads in the sand and don’t want to comprehend something that is unthinkable to them.
The outbreak is showing signs of slowing in Asia but the rest of the world is battling to prevent and contain the virus, being weeks and possibly months from the peak of the outbreak. It doesn’t really seem particularly fair to hold a global competition under those circumstances.
As athletes, all we can do is be empathetic, respectful and responsible, preparing safely as best we can for whenever the time may come that we can compete.
Any decisions going forward will be made by the IOC and Japanese Government. I do sincerely hope we overcome the outbreak and that that games can go ahead as planned, but more so I hope any decisions are, as promised, taken with health, well-being, safety and fairness as the main concerns, and not simply economics.