27 Feb 2020

Kiwi athletes training as usual as Olympic Games uncertainty remains

11:47 am on 27 February 2020

Most New Zealand athletes preparing for July's Olympic Games in Tokyo aren't being put off their stride due to fears the games could be cancelled because of the global coronavirus outbreak.

Dame Valerie Adams during the Shot Put competition, during the Sir Graeme Douglas International, Auckland 2020.


High Performance director at Athletics New Zealand, Scott Goodman, told Morning Report it was business as usual, with athletes continuing to train for next week's national championships and officials preparing for the Olympic selection process afterwards.

"For athletes and coaches that I work with we'll just keep going and preparing," he said.

"If the outbreak makes it impossible to run the Games then we've just got to respect that. But for the time being, that is not on our minds on a daily basis, we're just getting ready for the Games."

He said some Kiwi athletes had already been affected by issues over the outbreak.

"The high-performance boxers had been training in Italy for a tournament in Jordan and now Jordan is denying people access who had been in Italy."

Italy is currently struggling to contain an outbreak across its northern regions, with six reported deaths from the illness confirmed so far.

"We're going to have all sorts of problems like that, with some sports still qualifying. There's other ways of qualifying rather than just going to specific qualifying tournament, they can do times and distances at alternative venues."

He said postponement for a year would effect some athletes more than others, including four-time world champion shot-putter, Dame Valerie Adams.

"I haven't sat down with her but this might have been her last Games and that's something she'd have to consider herself, to go for another 12 months... We've probably got a number of senior athletes and that would have a big implication on what they might do. Other athletes can take it in their stride."

He said holding the Games without stadium audiences was preferable to not holding the Games at all, and that television coverage was still the biggest component of the sporting spectacle.

"You just have to abide with what's happening in the world. I guess we've just got to be guided by what the advisers are saying."

Earlier, International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound told Morning Report a decision on whether to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics if the coronavirus was not brought under control would need to be made.

Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who has been on the IOC since 1978, estimated there is a three-month window - perhaps a two-month one - to decide the fate of the Tokyo Games, meaning a decision could be put off until late May.

"We are planning, as we speak today, to have the Olympic Games in Tokyo, starting on July 24, but it's against a backdrop of a potential pandemic, the nature and extent of which we don't know because it's new and there is a possibility there might have to be some changes and everybody is proceeding with fingers crossed that this virus does not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle," he said.

The last Olympic Games to be cancelled were the 1940 and 1944 games during World War II.

Japan's coronavirus cases are third-highest globally, with over 170 confirmed, while more than 600 cases have been reported among the guests on the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored at Yokohama Port.

Pound said they would need to consult with Japanese officials and determine whether the country was in a position to put off the Games until next year, if it was deemed too unsafe to stage the events this year.

"First thing we'd do is sit down with the Japanese and say 'look it doesn't look promising for July 24, 2020, can you folks hold this together for another year? Would you be willing to do that and if so, are we satisfied that all of the hotel reservations would be honoured a year later'... All that sort of thing would need to be discussed with the hosts.

"It don't see the IOC being willing to send athletes and officials into a highly-contagious and potentially-lethal environment."

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