Hayley Wickenheiser, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes Commission, says medical experts should decide whether or not to stage the Tokyo Olympics, not athletes or the IOC.
Wickenheiser, a six-time Olympian who won four ice hockey gold medals and also played softball at the 2000 Summer Games, told CBC Sports that safety and public health need to be the decisive factors about conducting the Games at Japan in July and August.
“This decision needs to be made by medical and health experts, not by corporate and big business,” Wickenheiser said in a posting on the CBC website.
“A very clear and transparent explanation needs to be given if the Games are going to go ahead.”
Wickenheiser, who is set to graduate from medical school next week, knows the money, preparation and training that has gone into the planned staging of the Games in Tokyo, which is now under “emergency orders” due to the Covid-19 pandemic that forced the postponement of the Olympics from last year.
Wickenheiser, a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, knows after training for years to compete, she would do anything to go, so athletes, and the IOC, shouldn’t make the final choice on the Games’ fate.
“You almost need someone else outside with less invested than you to say it is or isn’t worth it,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be the IOC making that call. That should be the experienced doctors and physicians who have dealt with pandemics and people with no skin the game and nothing to gain or lose from this.”
Wickenheiser wants public safety, not television deals and sponsor bonuses, to be the critical factor.
“This is what it’s all about. Money and broadcast rights and promises made,” she said. “I question if the health and the well-being of the athletes attending has been at the true forefront. I have to ask that question because it wasn’t when the Games were first postponed.”
Wickenheiser went on social media in March 2020 and said it would be irresponsible and insensitive for the Tokyo Olympics to be staged as planned. Five days later, Canada’s Olympic Committee said it wouldn’t send athletes to Tokyo that summer and two days later, the Olympics were postponed.
Canada is facing a new wave of Covid-19 variants and again Wickenheiser wonders whether it’s safe to stage an Olympics, even one without international spectators.
“I have to ask the questions and I think they’re fair questions,” she said. “Prior to the pandemic I said there’s no way the Olympics can go ahead because history told us there was no way they could.
“And now I’m saying I don’t know, I wonder if they can again.”
‘Seen such suffering’ –
Wickenheiser has been treating Covid-19 patients in Calgary.
“It’s very hard after what I’ve witnessed this past year and then think about the Games,” she said. “I’ve seen such suffering.”
More than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes are expected from July to September in Japan, where the vaccination rate is below 2% of the population.
“I think we maybe have another month before they have to make a decision,” Wickenheiser said.
“This is someone’s country we’re going into. These are real people living in crisis. We have to be sensitive to the needs of a nation.”
Wickenheiser can sympathize with athletes who have trained years for their chance to compete only to be forced to do it during a pandemic.
“There’s no winner in this, whether it’s cancelled or goes ahead,: she said. “It’s just a difficult situation all around.”