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Canadian athletes will not compete at Tokyo 2020 Games due to COVID-19 risks


The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) say they will not send athletes to compete in Tokyo if the Games — set to begin July 24 — go ahead as scheduled.

Backed by the Athletes’ Commissions, National Sport Organizations and the Government of Canada, the COC and CPC say they “made the difficult decision to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020.”

The two committees are calling on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games for a year, citing the safety of athletes and the general public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health,”  the committees said in a statement Sunday night.

“With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games”. 

Later in the night, Australia’s chef de mission Ian Chester told his country’s athletes to start preparing for a Northern summer Olympics saying “It’s clear that the Games can’t be held in July.”

While Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics would be unavoidable if the games cannot be held in a complete way because of COVID-19.  Although Abe, speaking at a parliamentary session, ruled out the possibility of a cancellation.

The statement from the COC also cited the scope of the public health threat.

“Containing the virus must be our paramount concern. We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport.”

Seyi Smith, chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission, said the decision will ensure people are safe — and will also ensure Canada has the best competitive team.

“It’s been a collective process to get here,”  Smith said.

WATCH | Rob Pizzo discusses how COVID-19 has shut down the sporting world:

CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo on the number of events that have been postponed or cancelled due to pandemic. 7:01

He said officials from the COC spent all Sunday calling the 14 members of the athletes’ commission to get their insights on how to proceed.

“It’s the uncertainty that is the worst thing. In sport and in life. People are sick, people are dying.”

The move comes hours after the IOC said it would take a month to consider postponing the 2020 Olympics following an emergency meeting earlier on Sunday.

However, the IOC stated in a press release that “cancellation is not on the agenda” with respect to the upcoming Games.

‘All in this together’

In a letter to athletes Sunday night, Canada’s chef de mission Marnie McBean tried to provide comfort.

“I can imagine this note is in part both crushing and a relief. We’ve been waiting for some real decisions,” McBean said.

“Please remember we are all in this together as Team Canada, and as a nation. The key is for the Olympics to happen when it is safe and responsible for everyone,” she said.

Five-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC’s athletes commission, and an early critic of the IOC’s plan to press on with the Olympics as planned, shared her pride with the COC’s announcement on social media, saying, “Leading the world. Very proud of this evening.”

While world champions swimmer Maggie MacNeil, who is hoping to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo, received plenty of support, while acknowledging her own disappointment. 

“Sometimes you just need a good hug,” MacNeil wrote on Instagram. “It was difficult to hear that Team Canada will not be sending a team to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; however, I know that it is in the best interest of the athletes and society. The right chose was made, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”

Marc-André Fabien, president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, said the health of the global committee is the priority.

“We are relieved that cancelling the Games is not a consideration, but we feel that a four-week timeline on a decision is not soon enough, and that a one-year postponement of the Games is truly the only option,” Fabien said in a statement.

While Canada’s Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said, “I’ve just been informed of the decision of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees not to send Canadian athletes to the Olympics in the upcoming months. It is the right thing to do given the circumstances.

“To our athletes: representing your country at this time also means protecting your health and the health of those surrounding you. Thanks to your hard work, resilience and team spirit, Team Canada is more united than ever. We will keep cheering you up, everyday.”

Ball in IOC’s court

In a separate letter sent to Olympic athletes, IOC president Thomas Bach offered assurances that “we are working very hard, and we are confident that we will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks.”

The COC and CPC say they are thankful for the IOC’s assurance that it will not cancel the Tokyo 2020 Games and that they understand the importance of accelerating its decision-making regarding a possible postponement.

“We also applaud the IOC for acknowledging that safeguarding the health and wellness of nations and containing the virus must be our paramount concern. We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport,” the statement said.





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