The announcement Sunday night that Canada will not send a team to the Tokyo Olympics this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rippled through the sporting community on the Island, where numerous athletes have been training for the 2020 Games.
“We planned to be there with a great opportunity to win a medal but there are more important things right now than sports,” said Matt Sharpe of Victoria, a member of Canada’s highly-regarded triathlon relay team. “It’s tough. But Canadian authorities are putting athletes’ safety first,” said the Campbell River native and Claremont Secondary graduate.
“We have to look at the big picture and community at large and not just ourselves. There are times to put personal goals aside and this is one of them. Canada took the leadership on this and is setting a good example. This is not forever. We are in a holding pattern. If we see improvement in the spread of the virus, or a vaccine, then we will be re-focusing on an Olympic medal in Tokyo in 2021.”
Rower Caileigh Filmer is another Island athlete who was an Olympic-medallist prospect for Tokyo 2020. Now that might be for Tokyo 2021, as the Canadian Olympic Committee announced it will not be sending athletes to Tokyo for the Games until at least next year and demanded a postponement due to concerns over COVID-19.
Filmer and Hillary Janssens were world gold- and bronze- medallists in women’s pairs the past two years heading into the Tokyo Olympic year. That may now have to be a dream deferred to 2021.
“We will continue training, but will listen to our medical staff to stay healthy and safe, and we will be ready to go for a medal whenever it is that the Olympics take place,” said Filmer, a University of Victoria athlete out of Mount Douglas Secondary.
Those thoughts were echoed by surfer Mathea Olin of Tofino, the 16-year-old surfing prodigy who medalled in the 2019 Lima Pan American Games, and was looking to do the same on the biggest stage of all as her sport prepared to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020. “It was definitely something I was training for and something everybody in our sport was looking forward to,” said Olin.
“This just gives us more time to prepare and qualify for next year. We have a great team and we’ll be excited for the Olympics whenever they happen.”
The Langford-based Canadian women’s rugby sevens team was an Olympic medal favourite for Tokyo after taking bronze at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. “This announcement is disappointing but not surprising,” said Canadian head coach John Tait of Mill Bay.
“It is the most logical and safest decision. But it’s still a terrible feeling, regardless. I hope the IOC can and will move the Games to next summer and that it’s a lot safer then. It’s hard to compete under these conditions. But it could be a huge success a year from now in welcoming the world back [from the pandemic].”
Triathlon Canada, Rowing Canada, Surfing Canada and Rugby Canada are among 10 national sport federations with head offices and national training centres on the Island.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee urgently called on the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organization to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games for one year.
“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” said the COC and CPC in a statement.
“This is not solely about athlete health – it is about public health. With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games. In fact, it runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow.”
The IOC said Sunday it will have an announcement about the status of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games within four weeks. It said the Games would not be cancelled but indicated a postponement is possible.
“We are thankful to the IOC for its assurance that it will not be cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Games and appreciative that it understands the importance of accelerating its decision-making regarding a possible postponement,” said the COC and CPC.
“The health and wellness of nations and containing the virus must be our paramount concern. We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport. We remain hopeful that the IOC and IPC will agree with the decision to postpone the Games as a part of our collective responsibility to protect our communities and work to contain the spread of the virus.”