A defending Olympic champion has accused the International Olympic Committee of potentially endangering athletes following the ongoing insistence that Tokyo 2020 can still take place as planned this summer.

On a day when a vice-president of the Japanese Olympic Committee tested positive for coronavirus, the International Olympic Committee released a statement in which it said that it was still "fully committed" to this summer's Tokyo games.

It followed a conference call with summer sports federations in which the IOC outlined a willingness to adapt "qualification systems" amid the current chaos of mass cancellations.

Only 57 per cent of more than 11,000 athletes expected to compete in Tokyo are currently officially qualified and the IOC have now promised that they will publish updated qualifying guidance by the beginning of April.

Advertisement

READ MORE:
Olympics facing two-year postponement because of coronavirus threat, says Tokyo 2020 chief
Olympics: Kiwi athletes willing to risk coronavirus danger to attend 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Coronavirus: An Olympics without fans? The drastic measure suggested for Tokyo Games
Olympics: Kiwi boxer David Nyika books Tokyo Olympics spot with qualification win

"For the remaining 43 per cent of places, the IOC will work with the international federations to make any necessary and practical adaptations to their respective qualification systems for Tokyo 2020," said the IOC.

The statement added that, with more than four months to go before the Olympics are due to start in July, that there was "no need for any drastic decisions" and that "any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive". The IOC also said that it "encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as best they can".

The statement prompted a backlash. "This is not about how things will be in four months - this is about how things are now," said Katerina Stefanidi, Greece's Olympic, World and European pole vault champion.

"The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in four months. It's unbelievable. What about team sports that have to train together? What about swimming? What about gymnastics that ... touch the same objects? There is zero consideration of the risk they are putting us in right now."

World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson has returned to the UK after finding herself unable to train in France and on Tuesday night said that the IOC's information was not compatible with the reality for athletes.

"The IOC advice encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic games as best they can ... but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed," she said. "I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible."

World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Photo / Photosport
World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Photo / Photosport

Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC's athlete commission and six-times an Olympian joined the condemnation.

Advertisement

"I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity," she said. "Athletes can't train. Attendees can't travel plan. Sponsors and marketers can't market with any degree of sensitivity."

The IOC also said that it would continue to monitor the situation and stressed that decisions "will not be determined by financial interests". It said that their overriding principle would be "to protect the health of everyone involved and to support the containment of the virus" and "to safeguard the interests of the athletes and of Olympic sport".

Talks with athletes' representatives, international Olympic committees - including the British Olympic Association - and the International Paralympic Committee will also be held this week.

Practical challenges were highlighted in London earlier this week when an attempt to host the European boxing qualifying event behind closed doors ended with its suspension. The British national swimming championships and the first three Diamond League athletics meetings were among further sports events postponed on Tuesday.

"How on earth are we meant to carry on preparing best we can?" said Jess Judd, a middle-distance runner. "Will someone share with me what races we can do to get times and whether trials will go ahead and when training can return to normal."

Although plans for international training and competition have been placed on hold, UK Sport and the English Institute for Sport are working with individual sports in an attempt to help athletes continue with adapted training programmes. In athletics, the decision to suspend all organised activity until the end of April is not being applied to those athletes on the world-class programme.

Advertisement

Swimmer Adam Peaty, who is one of Team GB's best chances for a gold medal, said that "staying positive in these times is more important than ever".

Organisers of Tokyo 2020 have so far remained adamant that their event can take place on time and in front of fans. Abe Shinzo, the Japanese prime minister, said that he wanted to hold the Olympics and Paralympics as "proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus".

Although Japan appears to have stabilised the pandemic's growth within their national border, cases have continued to surge throughout much of the world. Kozo Tashima, who sits on the Japan Olympic Committee and is also president of the Japanese Football Federation, confirmed his coronavirus diagnosis on Tuesday and said that he had travelled to Northern Ireland, Holland and the United States between the end of February and early March.

"I have a mild fever," said Tashima. "Examinations showed a symptom of pneumonia, but I'm fine. I will concentrate on treatment following doctors' advice."