“Olympics At The Moment…Would Not Be Fair,” Declares Dolphins Coach Jacco Verhaeren

Jacco with Matt Wilson and Bronte Campbell
FRONT AND CENTRE: Australian Dolphins Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren speaks up for "unfair" Olympics. Pictured here with Matthew Wilson and Bronte Campbell. Photo Courtesy Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Australia’s head swimming coach Jacco Verhaeren knows first hand that this year’s Tokyo Olympics will not be swum “on a level playing field” and has sent an impassioned and unprecedented message to the world expressing his concerns.

To hold the Olympic Games from July 24, 2020, he suggests, “would not be fair”.

Highlights and the coronavirus (COVD-19) crunch in his message to Olympic bosses (you can read the full passage of what he had to say in the body of the article below):

“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.”

Countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and now the US State of California are all in lock down under the cowering scourge of Covid-19.

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DOLPHINS COACHING BRAINS TRUST (L-R) Dean Boxall, Michael Bohl, Craig Jackson, Jacco Verhaeren and Mick Palfrey. Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Verhaeren has led Swimming Australia’s heart felt message to his international colleagues that an Olympics at the moment would not be fair and revealed he has spoken to colleagues around the world.

“Of course for me it’s easy to make contacts with a lot of people and a lot of people are making contact with me, particularly from Europe and definitely as an organisation we have been in contact with the US as well,” said Verhaeren.

While the majority of Australia’s Aquatic Centres and major swimming pools –open to High Performance squads– European and US athletes are now locked in their homes – unable to live normal lives – let alone train in a high performance environment.

South East Queensland alone is a mecca for Olympic and Paralympic swimmers with over 40 athletes having their sights set on Tokyo 2020.

High performance pools on the Gold Coast – at Bond and Griffith Universities, The Southport School, Gold Coast Aquatic Centre and Somerset College are home to more than 25 Olympic hopefuls – all in full swing and post outstanding results at last week’s NSW State Championships in Sydney.

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TRIPLE OLYMPIAN: Dolphins backstroking diva Emily Seebohm, eyes on a fourth Games in Tokyo. Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Pools and schools in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast has another 20 swimmers with their sights on the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games – all genuine hopes – from triple Olympian Emily Seebohm (under Michael Bohl at Griffith University) to Bond University boys Alex Graham and Elijah Winnington like so many with their sights set on their first Olympics.

Relay Team AUS, Mens 4x200m Freestyle Final, 18th FINA World Swimming Championships 2019, 26 July 2019, Gwangju South Korea. Pic by Delly Carr/Swimming Australia. Pic credit requested and mandatory for free editorial usage. THANK YOU.

TOP GUNS : Alex Graham (L) with Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers (C) and another top Olympic prospect Clyde Lewis celebrate Australia’s 4x200m freestyle world title. Photo Courtesy:Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Sydney’s Olympic Park Aquatic Centre – home to coach Adam Kable and Olympic hopefuls like former world record holder Matt Wilson – unlucky to miss Rio in 2016 and the Melbourne Sports And Aquatic Centre – home of coach Craig Jackson, who is preparing Mack Horton’s Tokyo defence.

The SA Aquatic and Leisure Centre where Peter Bishop prepares Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers and Rio Olympian and world champion Madison Wilson and the UWA West team led by Mick Palfrey with another Rio debutant and world champion Brianna Throssell are in full cry.

For them it has been business as usual as they train towards the June 14-19 Olympic and Paralympic Trials in Adelaide – but their training environments are not a situation shared around the world.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had very little (impact), of course (on Australia’s HP Squads) we had to cancel our own competitions as well, so Age Nationals and National Championships were planned for next month and obviously they’re not going ahead,” said Verhaeren.

“But the training environment as we speak, and we have just coming off a busy morning in talking to our athlete leaders and our high performance coaches, so we have the first-hand ‘Intel’.

“They’re actually still all able to train in good circumstances, of course taking the necessary precautions and doing everything they can themselves to stay safe.

“At the moment most of our pools and really the highest percentage of our pools are open and if they’re not open for public they’re still open for high performance athletes and coaches.

“We are talking at the moment from Australia, from a position of strength, we are nowhere near to the circumstances that other countries, athletes and coaches are exposed to at the moment.”

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DOLPHINS UNITED: Australia’s swimmers know Olympics would not be swum on a level playing field. Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

It prompted Swimming Australia to send a heartfelt and certainly a highly commendable message to its international colleagues and peers on behalf of the Australian Dolphins Swim Team and it’s High Performance staff, led by Head Coaches Jacco Verhaeren and Brendan Burkett (Para).

A message of support and solidarity, particularly those in highly affected areas, where training and competing is impossible at the moment due to lockdowns and restrictions at training facilities and pools.

 The Swimming Australia statement read in part: “We know athlete preparation is being severely compromised (around the world) and with friendship and solidarity important Olympic and Paralympic values, we stand with you in this time of uncertainty. 

“We all share the dream in sport, and that is, to strive for excellence and to compete with each other.

“At this current time in Australia, and as long as the situation allows us to, we are still preparing for the Olympics and Paralympics to the best of our ability.

“But we absolutely understand that for a lot of our peers and colleagues this isn’t the reality anymore, as it may not be for us soon.

 “As much as we hope to see you all in Tokyo – in a world that is in a much better position than it is now – we do recognise the challenges that everyone is facing at the moment.

“We hope the IOC and IPC are considering everything they can to ensure that there is a level playing field, with athletes being able to perform in healthy conditions.”

Verhaeren, who led the Dutch in their golden era from 2000 to 2008 and took over the reins of the Australian team for Rio and Tokyo, feels for his international counterparts and Australia’s elite swimmers feel exactly the same.

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DUTCH DAYS: Coach Jacco Verhaeren with his Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband. Photo Courtesy: ABC-TV.

The astute coach of Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband, knows the Australians would not feel comfortable swimming at an Olympic Games with so many major nations under prepared – believing it certainly wouldn’t be a level playing field – and that’s not what the Olympics is about.

Verhaeren gave an insight into an unprecedented situation, facing world sport and the circumstances in which European athletes are living, let alone training.

Our message is …

“To give a message like this at this point in time and to talk about fair play and healthy conditions is probably coming from us at a time that we’re not in that position ourselves yet,” said Verhaeren, who has been based on the Gold Coast with his young family since his appointment post London in 2012.

“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. The Olympics is so special, particularly for sports where it is their biggest platform or only real platform.

“When you look around, there are quite a lot of our athletes walking around with the five rings on their chest or their arms. I’ve never seen a FINA logo or a UCI logo or an IAAF logo.

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SPEAKING OUT: Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell “dealing with something that transcends sport.” Photo Courtesy: AAP.

“That shows how big it is and it is so big because everyone in these sports knows that everyone is prepared for the maximum, to the optimum.

“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.”

Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell said that everyone involved in Australia’s premier Olympic sport absolutely wanted the Games to go ahead.

“We are preparing for that but we’re also acknowledging that we want a level playing field for everyone and right now around the world we are holding concerns that people can’t achieve that at this time,” said Russell.

“We are genuinely concerned and worried about people, as we all are at the moment and are hearing of high-performance centres obviously being shut, obviously countries in lockdown and worse than that, people being very worried about their families and their communities and dealing with something that I think transcends sport.”

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15 comments

  1. avatar
    Coach John D

    What a ridiculous article. The Auzzies trying to be empathetic, more like gloating! Even their CEO says she wants the games to go ahead. Whenever is it a level playing field around the globe in swimming? Do all athletes have access to similar facilities or coaches? If the IOC move forward with the games, the swimmers of the world will do whatever they can to be as prepared as possible.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Wholeheartedly disagree with you 🙂 No sense of gloating going on there; a lot of appreciation of the hardship and sorrow and desperation of people elsewhere. I can assure you that in Europe this day, this article will go down in the way intended: a spirit of solidarity in sport is a part of the Olympic spirit – and without that part of the whole, the spirit dies. Comparisons with the unevenness of standard life simply don’t work. Why would the Olympic movement wish to hold a Games that would go down as the Corona Games that ruined Olympic dreams, that got written up and broadcast as “sadly X and Y are not in best shape” etc etc… it would be woeful – and, indeed, shameful. Take a look at the social media response, to what big-named athletes and coaches around the world are liking and retweeting … I think you’ll find, respectfully, that you’re out of step 🙂 Just about everyone (barring some IOC members if they don’t get ‘their’ moment this July) wants the Games to go ahead – the question is when, so your interpretation of what the CEO in Australia has said is shy of the full meaning.

  2. avatar
    Chris Guesdon

    Its not just the competitors and officials at the olympic village that the desease could sweep through,that i would be concerned with. Why would anyone in their right mind let anyone let alone a million people who come from a place where the virus is rageing into the country.But this is the IOC for you the games must go on.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Indeed, Chris

  3. Liz Gosper

    “Empathy for your peers” that’s a great line from a great coach.

  4. avatar
    commonwombat

    I can’t see any hint of gloating in anything Verhaeren has said. Whilst AUS high performance swimmers are still able to train, that could change very quickly.

    I DO think Olympic officials, and I most certainly include Australian ones in that indictment, of living in some form of “Olympic bubble”, insulated away from the stark reality of the wider picture with their “we must keep up public morale” mindset.

    Six months from now we may be over the worst and have a better handle on COVID-19 but that is far from certain. Even if that is the case, postponing until next year may be easier said than done as any “return to normalcy” will be no “flicking the switch” either for Tokyo or any other country.

    In all honesty, I’m leaning more towards 2022 on the score of (A) having the COVID-19 situation controlled and (2) allowing Tokyo to properly reset and likewise the rest of the world let alone prospective competitors. Making such a decision earlier rather than later will at least give them some degree of certainty rather than leaving them suspended in some form of limbo.

    I DO accept the risk with a longer term postponement, there will definitely be some who will not be able to remain committed and those who “competitive window of opportunity” will most likely close in that intervening period but this is a perennial fact of life they face from year to year. Yes it WILL mean both Summer and WInter Games in the one year (IF CHN has itself recovered) but that was the general rule itself until 1994.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Thanks wombat – some very valid points.

  5. Jason Salecich

    Yep no Olympian would want to compete knowing this. They live to compete amongst the best and this just isn’t possible right now and won’t be possible for the Olympics. Someone needs to make the call and look to the future.

  6. Sue Jackson

    Totally agree.
    Support and solidarity is so much more in line with the Olympic ideals than the focus of those arguing for the Games to go ahead.

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