March 19, 2020 / 5:34 PM / 5 months ago

Olympics-Holding Tokyo Games as scheduled is a disservice to the world, says Wickenheiser

MOSCOW, March 19 (Reuters) - Six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser said that holding this year's Olympics as planned in July and August would be a disservice to athletes and the general population considering the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping around the world.

The virus has brought global sport to a virtual standstill, with major events being postponed or cancelled as cases of the virus grow.

But organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have repeatedly said the Games, scheduled to take place from July 24 to Aug. 9, will go ahead as planned despite the rapid spread of the virus.

Wickenheiser, who represented Canada at five Winter Games in ice hockey and the 2000 Summer Olympics in softball, said the Olympic movement should be showing "more compassion and empathy" for the struggles people are expiring because of the virus, ranging from job losses to confinement at home.

"I just feel that the insistence that the Games are going to happen in July is doing a disservice to people in the world first of all, and then athletes secondly who are trying to prepare," Wickenheiser told Reuters from self-isolation in Toronto.

"Humanity first, and sport always follows."

Wickenheiser, winner of four Olympic gold medals, said athletes around the world will not be prepared to compete in the Olympics because lockdowns, self-isolation measures and global travel restrictions are derailing their training plans and pre-Olympic competitions.

"If you are going to the Olympics… you want to go there in the best frame of mind possible knowing that you were able to do all the training that you could," she said. "A lot of athletes are not going to have that chance."

Wickenheiser, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee's athlete commission, has nearly completed her studies to become a doctor and witnessed firsthand Canada's efforts to contain the virus.

"I have been on the frontline. I have seen how this virus is spreading," she said.

"To be talking about how we are going to quarantine the Athlete's Village (at the Olympics), it just doesn't sit right with me at the moment." (Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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