TOKYO, Japan, March 19 ------ Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi said athletes were being forced to take health risks as competitors started to speak out about holding the Tokyo Games during the coronavirus crisis. Stefanidi and British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson both voiced concerns after the International Olympic Committee said it was "fully committed" to running the Games as scheduled from July 24.
An IOC member called the body's stance "insensitive and irresponsible", saying athletes were facing "anxiety and heartbreak" as they try to train during the virus emergency. Stefanidi, one of Greece's most prominent athletes, was scheduled to hand the ceremonial flame to Japanese officials before the Greek leg of the torch relay was scrapped over COVID-19. "The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day?" she tweeted. "You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months."
On Tuesday, minutes before the IOC statement, the Euro 2020 football tournament was delayed for a year, bowing to the crisis that has paralysed Europe and drastically curtailed international travel. Olympic qualifying tournaments are among the swathe of sports events that have been cancelled or postponed, with only 57 percent of athletes booking their places so far. "It's unbelievable," said Stefanidi. "What about team sports that have to train together? What about swimming? What about gymnastics that they touch the same objects? "There is zero consideration of the risk they are putting us in right now."
Johnson-Thompson, the world heptathlon champion, criticised the IOC for telling athletes to train "as best they can", saying it was at odds with stringent government health measures. "I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible," she wrote on Twitter. "It's difficult (to) approach the season when everything has changed in the lead-up apart from the ultimate deadline," added the Briton.