Ian Thorpe Urges Athletes To Put Health Ahead Of Olympic Dreams In Corona Crisis

Ian THORPE of Australia poses for a photo at his 50m outdoor training pool at the Centro sportivo nazionale della gioventu in Tenero, Switzerland, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Ian Thorpe, the five-times Olympic champion, has urged athletes to put health ahead of their Olympic dreams as Games bosses contemplate the possible impact of the coronavirus on Tokyo 2020.

The virus, believed to have originated in a market selling livestock in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

The spread of the virus is now wide, across Asia, including Japan, the Middle East, Europe, while the United States and Australia are implementing stringent border controls and implementing other measures designed to contain the outbreak. Moves includes the development of a vaccine to combat the virus, Chinese doctors the first to suggest they have now found a vaccine that appears to work and is being put through clinical tests.

The international sports calendar has been hit by postponements and cancellations far and wide, while IOC member Dick Pound broke ranks to suggest that the dangers of the virus could impact directly on the Olympic Games, with cancellation more likely that postponement because of the financial hit that would be involved.

Sarah Sjöström, Katinka Hosszu and Chad Le Clos were among swimmers training in Italy this week who voiced their concerns about the Games and the need for safety to be paramount.

Now, Thorpe has added his voice, telling reporters today:

“I would most definitely be concerned. What we need to know is to use some of the best expert disease specialists to find out what is the risk to the team. What is the risk to the other nations and how can we have an Olympic Games, one that is safe, that doesn’t put athletes at risk?

“I think the decision should come down to each individual athlete. But whether or not they want to compete, that they should take their health into consideration first.”

Australia’s Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman said on Wednesday the coronavirus was a serious concern but athletes were being instructed to prepare as if they were going to Tokyo as scheduled.

Japan Seeks To Contain Outbreak & Safeguard Tokyo2020

At a Japanese Government task force meeting on Wednesday on the virus outbreak, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was asking organizers to cancel or postpone major sports or cultural events over the next two weeks.

“The next one-to-two weeks is extremely important for the prevention of the escalation of the infection,” Abe said. “We ask organizers to cancel, postpone or scale down the size of such events.”

He did not name specific events but said he was speaking about nationwide events that attract large crowds.

The Prime Minister went further by the close of the day in Japan today: the country will  close schools nationwide to help control the spread of the virus, the government announced.

Prime Minister Abe has asked all elementary, middle and high schools to remain shut until spring holidays begin in late March. The measure affects 12.8 million students at 34,847 schools nationwide, the education ministry said.

‘The coming week or two is an extremely important time,’ Abe said.

“This is to prioritize the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections for many children and teachers who gather and spend hours together every day.”

Japan now has more than 900 cases of coronavirus infection, including 705 from a quarantined cruise ship. An eighth death from the virus was confirmed today.

tokyo2020-logoTokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters at a press conference in Tokyo that a three-month window for decision-making was in sight but added, in comments translated from Japanese: “Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled. For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The Olympics open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25 with 4,400 athletes.

The three-month window applies to all involved, including athletes, coaches, programs, sponsors, broadcasters, press, parents and fans: 7.8 million tickets are available for the Olympics and 2.3 million for the Paralympics.

Japanese virologist Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, who formerly worked for the WHO, said last week he could not forecast what the situation would be in five months.

On Tuesday, Pound said: “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in their building their studios.”

Muto suggested that there was little point in speculating and that action was more important. He said: “The Prime Minister has announced measures to be taken over the next two weeks and so we, too, are taking that into consideration.

“The biggest problem would be if this novel coronavirus infections spreads far and wide, so the most important thing to do is to take measures to prevent that from happening.”

He also said the torch relay would go ahead but is likely to have to be stalked back to a much smaller affair than that planned. It is to start in Japan on March 26 in Fukushima prefecture, located 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

“We absolutely do not think of canceling (the torch relay),” Muto said. “We’d like to think about how to implement it while preventing the spread of infection, including scaling down, or other ways.”

While Olympic organisers lean towards ‘show must go on’, the Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto noted the need to put safety first.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, she said “We believe it is necessary to make a worst case scenario in order to improve our operation to achieve success.” Planning was to make sure “that we can safely hold the Tokyo Olympics”.

Her comments came at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is having an impact on trade and finance markets, travel-industry stocks among the worst hit. In the sports sector, many teams are now facing decisions as to whether to cancel and rearrange pre-Games training camps in Asia. Yesterday, the Colombian Olympic Committee announced that it had cancelled planned pre-Olympic training camps in southern Japan.

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Barbara Schlenner
4 years ago


Lisa O'Keefe
4 years ago

Maybe do a “virtual olympics”. Where each country runs its own meet and you just compare results and award accordingly?

Charlene Tallen
4 years ago
Reply to  Lisa O'Keefe

Lisa O’Keefe I agree with this. Timed events could easily be done this way. Not as cool, but if the athletes are ready to go, let’s do what we can to let them compete.

Joanne Newton
4 years ago
Reply to  Lisa O'Keefe

Lisa O’Keefe interesting concept!!!

Darren Ward
4 years ago
Reply to  Lisa O'Keefe

Lisa O’Keefe wouldn’t be fair…. different pools, different racing conditions.

Shabnam Dege
4 years ago


Charlie Lownes
4 years ago

Much easier to say after you’ve been to the Olympics. I can say without hesitation that if someone had told me I could go to the Olympics but there was a chance I could die… I’d go!!!

Mercedes Figueroa
4 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Lownes

Charlie Lownes

The risk of dying will not only be for you but also for your loved ones when you return to your hometown, and they will not be able to decide whether or not to go to the Olympic Games, are you willing to live with that?

Charlie Lownes
4 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Lownes

Mercedes Figueroa I am will to quarantine myself I’d be willing to subject myself to host country restrictions…. the discipline required to stay safe and protect loved ones is nothing compared to why it takes to make it to the Olympics!!!! Make it more of a TV event but get the athletes there!!!

Kathryn Meinhardt
4 years ago

Strongly disagree

Peter Yates
4 years ago

Because all the healthy young athletes are at such risk right?

Ann C Gallacher
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter Yates

Peter Yates it’s not just about the athletes, it includes coaches, spectators, volunteers, IOC members etc.
This 2019-nCoV virus will keep mutating making it difficult to find a vaccine which could be 12-18 months away from being available.

Julie Tellier
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter Yates

Ann C Gallacher you are a doctor or immunology specialists or just feel the need to be condescending to Peter?

Tonnie Denning Bules
4 years ago

I can only imagine what a difficult decision this would be…,
I was never good enough for the Olympics but the pragmatic side of me says look at the data, data never lies. This virus is more widespread than SARS however it doesn’t kill like SARS or the flu. One of the best protection is getting a flu shot. But being on trains in such close and tight proximity would be problematic if this virus continues. Also, for the athletes living together.
I’d hate to train for 4 years and not get my chance- devastating. I would also hate to fall into the percentage of people that would contract it and die.
I will be very interested to see what they decide.

Pamela Paschal Nichols

I love the Thorpedo!!!!!!!

4 years ago

Host the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the athletes have trained their entire lives to compete against the best athletes – head to head…
Eliminate the “in person” audience…majority of the world watch on TV or internet.
The IOC needs to be creative to understand how to protect the athletes, while maintaining the competition…

Lee Thomas
4 years ago

It’s too early to make a call, May is a good watershed where we will have more data to make an informed and correct decision.
But my inside voice is saying, the Games must go on.

Michael Venis
4 years ago

Kaz Boskovic Ned Wieland Gus Bennett

Michael Aversano
4 years ago

We will be there!

Jeff Float
Jeff Float
4 years ago

Wow, Is history repeating itself in weird ways? The Boycott of the1980 Olympics in Moscow due to an unfriendly “invasion” in Afghanistan and now the prospect of a boycott 40 years later of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo due to an unfriendly “invasion” of a virus?
The boycott decision was made in April of ’80, will it be the same decision in April of 2020? My heart goes out to any athlete competing at the Olympic level at this time! We’re scheduled to attend the Olympic Trials in late June and the athletes don’t know if the Games are going to happen or not? Talk about BRUTAL!

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