'Call it off': Athletes rage over Olympics' 'dangerous' stance on virus

The Australian Olympic Committee says it is continuing to tell athletes the Tokyo 2020 Games is going ahead amid criticism from a number of prominent gold medallists.

Regional Olympic officials rallied around the IOC on Thursday and backed its stance on opening the Tokyo Games as scheduled, as direct criticism from Olympic champions built amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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The AOC says the IOC has provided fresh assurances that the Games will start in July despite widespread concerns.

“We owe it to our Australian athletes to do everything we can to ensure they will participate with the best opportunity in those Games,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said, having been one of many bosses to order staff to work from home during the past week.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach addresses the media. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

However, when the IOC published an interview with president Thomas Bach after a separate call with athlete representatives, it prompted a four-time Olympic champion to urge postponing the Games.

Bach acknowledged that many athletes were concerned about qualifying events being cancelled, but noted that there were still four months to go until the games are set to be opened.

“We will keep acting in a responsible way in the interests of the athletes,” Bach said.

British rowing great Matthew Pinsent wrote on Twitter that the comments from Bach, his former IOC colleague, were “tone deaf.”

“The instinct to keep safe (not to mention obey govt instructions to lock down) is not compatible with athlete training, travel and focus that a looming Olympics demands of athletes, spectators organisers,” Pinsent wrote. “Keep them safe. Call it off.”

On Tuesday, one of the IOC's 100 members had broken ranks in a rare public criticism of the body's unwavering strategy.

“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity,” said Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic hockey gold medalist from Canada.

Wickenheiser, who is training to be a doctor and was voted to the IOC by fellow athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, wrote on her Twitter account she was elected “to represent and protect athletes.”

Her concern about athletes’ troubled preparations for Tokyo - “as facilities close and qualification events are canceled all over the world” - were echoed by 2016 Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi.

“The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day?” Stefanidi wrote on Twitter. “You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months.”

World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson expressed similar sentiments.

“I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible,” the British athlete wrote on Twitter.”

“It’s difficult (to) approach the season when everything has changed in the lead-up apart from the ultimate deadline.”

Olympics preparations continuing ‘full steam ahead’

None of the athletes directly cited IOC president Bach, who has urged competitors to prepare “with full steam” for the Games.

Responding to the criticism, the IOC said it was “counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes.”

Wickenheiser sits on the official IOC athlete panel, which is chaired by Olympic swimming champion Kirsty Coventry. Coventry is a member of the IOC executive board and has been a loyal Bach supporter on athletes' rights issues.

On Tuesday, the IOC repeated its steadfast stance after a conference call with sports governing bodies, many of which have not completed qualification events for Tokyo.

“There is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive,” the IOC said.

Katerina Stefanidi and Katarina Johnson-Thompson have both criticised the IOC's stance. Image: Getty

That message was repeated after Wednesday's conference call by IOC executive board member Robin Mitchell, the interim leader of the group of national Olympic bodies known as ANOC.

“We share the view that we must be realistic, but not panic,” Mitchell said in a statement released by the IOC on behalf of the Oceania Olympic group.

The Rome-based European Olympic group did acknowledge the “unprecedented disruption to our daily lives caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.”

Offering unanimous support for the IOC's efforts to resolve qualification issues, the 41-nation Pan-American group noted challenges facing potential Olympians.

“The athletes of the Americas are facing issues to complete their usual training schedules and take part in competitions,” said PanAm leader Neven Ilic, another IOC member.

with Yahoo Sports Staff