The Australian Olympic Commission (AOC) has come under fire from former Olympians over plans to remove Aussie competitors from the athletes' village shortly after the conclusion of their events at next year's Paris Games. The divisive move from the AOC is aimed at cracking down on the party culture within the athletes' village in order to make it fairer for those who are still competing in the second week of the Games.
Australia enjoyed one of its most successful Olympic campaigns in history at the Tokyo Games in 2021, which were significantly affected by the global pandemic. The party atmosphere at the athletes' village in Tokyo was more subdued than usual and the AOC says it is keen to recreate that environment again in Paris, to try and maximise the Australian team's performance.
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Officials are set to introduce strict new rules that would require Aussie athletes to vacate the village within 48 hours of their event finishing. It means many of Australia's swim team members - who typically compete in the first week of the Olympic Games - will be forced to leave the village early and won't be able to stay and cheer on their compatriots.
Athletes will be allowed to stay in Paris but it would come at their own expense and that would inevitably be a costly exercise during the world's biggest sporting event. Aussie swimming great and three-time Olympic Games medallist Giaan Rooney is highly critical of the move and says it "diminishes the Olympic experience" for Australia's athletes.
“I think it’s a real shame because for most people this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Rooney told News Corp. “Because alcohol is banned in the village any parties all take place outside the village, but there’s already plenty of noise and distraction because people are coming and going all the time.
“But that’s all part of the Olympic experience and it’s actually inspiring to see people walk around the village who have won medals. It gives everyone a lift.... a lot of the best memories I have are of getting dressed up and going and supporting my teammates.”
AOC explains plan for athletes' village at Paris Games
AOC chief executive Matt Carroll defended the plan and said much of Australia's success in Tokyo was tied to the more low-key atmosphere at the athletes' village. He said reducing the number of athletes within the village was particularly beneficial to those competing in the second week, with fewer distractions enabling them to prepare more effectively for their events.
“The learnings from Tokyo were absolutely positive that for the athletes who are competing in the second week, reducing the load on the village by athletes who have finished was positive for both their preparation and their health,” he said. “We want all of the athletes to be able to perform at their best, whether they have a medal chance or not, so it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in."
“The athletes could take a holiday. They’re free to do that. I’ve spoken to a few of the athletes and everyone understands it. This is about performance. It’s not for the wowsers, we’re actually doing it for the athletes who are still competing.
Another Australian swimming great who has slammed the idea is James Magnussen, with the 100-metre freestyle world champion branding it a "shameful" move from the AOC. Magnussen told News Corp that everyone who is lucky enough to make the Australian team should be able to enjoy the full Olympic Games experience.
“Being an Olympian is not just about winning medals. It is a rare achievement that deserves to be properly celebrated - no matter what result they achieve, he told News Corp. “Most athletes only ever get to one Olympic Games, so just making the team is the reward for a lifetime of hard work. They should be allowed to soak up every moment. Sending them home early just makes no sense."
While Australia's Olympic chiefs are quick to point to Tokyo as a means of justifying the controversial move, it doesn't tell the whole story, with Sydney 2000 still the country's most successful Olympic Games of all time. The Aussies came away from Sydney with a record 58 medals - 12 more than in Tokyo - with no such restrictions placed on competitors remaining in the athletes' village.
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