USA Swimming Calls For Olympic Postponement In Face Of USOPC Indecision

Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

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As of today, the International Olympic Committee has insisted that the Olympic Games are still on for a July 24 start date as intended. U.S. Olympic Officials are backing this decision, stating that it is too early to make any decisions about the Games with four months to go in regard to the coronavirus pandemic that has been called a global pandemic.

However USA Swimming is calling for a postponement.

USA Swimming has written a letter to Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC, calling for the Games to be pushed back a year:

Many athletes have chimed in and expressed their opinions that postponing the Games is the safest option.

2019 World Championships silver medalist Bruno Fratus of Brazil responded to former swimmer and current IOC member Kirsty Coventry:

“Kirsty, as a fellow swimmer and olympian I’d urge you to reconsider and consult with some other athletes around the world. Not sure if you’re aware of the the many athletes like myself incapable of even training.

“Also, the advice of “keep doing what you’re doing” seems disconnected with reality when we have world leaders daily on television asking people to stay home and isolate ourselves.

“Postponing the Olympic Games would not only give the world peace of mind but also allow that everyone could prepare properly, ensure fairness and maintain the technical level of the competition. Much love from Brazil #tokyo2021.”

2017 World Championships bronze medalist Jacob Pebley wrote an open letter to USA Swimming to postpone the Olympic Trials to next year.

“USA Swimming has the opportunity to lead the push for the only moral option in light of this unprecedented situation,” Pebley wrote. “I am asking for USA Swimming to publicly advocate for postponement of both Trials and the Olympic Games in the best interest of vulnerable people and already overburdened health systems around the world.”

Pebley, 26, finished fifth in the 200 backstroke at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. He acknowledged the risks that he and other athletes go to, in light of the restrictions on public gatherings, to maintain their training, and that removing the carrot of the Olympics would alleviate that incentive. He also calls on athletes to advocate for postponement:

“How can we, members of Team USA and role models for hundreds of thousands of young athletes, attend Olympics Trials/the Olympics in good conscience? To do so would fly in the face of all emerging evidence and best practices for social distancing and protecting the health of vulnerable communities.”

Other voices within American swimming, including prominent coaches Bob Bowman and Frank Busch, have called on USA Swimming to take the lead in postponing their trials and the Olympics until the world gets a handle on the COVID-19 crisis. Pebley’s latter, which received support from several athletes online, would present a new, athlete-centric push.

Other Olympic officials have backed the IOC.

“I think we would concur with them to say that we need more expert advice and information than we have today to make a decision,” U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Chair Susanne Lyons said. “And we don’t have to make a decision. Our Games are not next week, or two weeks from now. They’re four months from now. And I think a lot may change in that time period.

“So we are affording the IOC the opportunity to gather that information and expert advice. At this point in time, we do not feel that it’s necessary for us to insist that they make a decision.”

Many athletes around the world have had training locations compromised. Almost all athletes in Europe are unable to train and many Americans are incapable of finding open pool space. This has caused concern for many athletes and coaches, preaching that the Olympics would be an uneven playing field if they are to begin as scheduled in July. As of today, swimming at the Olympic Games starts in 127 days.

Hirshland said the safety of American athletes and their communities is the organization’s top priority. The USOPC is asking athletes to “continue to do what they can to prepare themselves for competition,” she said — but only if it is safe to do so.

Hirshland added that the USOPC has by no means received uniform feedback from its athletes about what should be done about the Tokyo Games.

“I don’t think we’re in a position where all athletes have a unanimous point of view,” she said.

Many have been calling for the IOC to delay the Tokyo Olympic Games until 2021, including Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) member Kaori Yamaguchi, who told Nikkei on Thursday that the IOC is “putting athletes at risk” by telling them to continue to train.

“As far as I can tell from news reports coming out of the U.S. and Europe, I don’t think the situation allows for athletes to continue training as usual,” Yamaguchi said.

Yamaguchi was the bronze medalist in judo at the 1988 Olympic Games, and also was the first JOC member to openly split with the International Olympic Committee.

Athletes are inclined to train if told a contest is coming up, she said. “By asking them to train under these conditions, the IOC is opening itself up the criticism that it is not putting athletes first,” Yamaguchi said.

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