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Olympics Athletes face mental health ‘double whammy’ if Games cancelled

ATHLETES planning to retire after the Tokyo Games face a mental health “double whammy” if the event is cancelled, the head of an athletes’ representative body warned yesterday.

It came as the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee dismissed renewed speculation that delayed Tokyo 2020 Games are set to be cancelled.

A report in the Times claiming that the Japanese government has “privately concluded” that the Olympics and Paralympics will have to be called off due to rising coronavirus rates was slammed by the IOC as “categorically untrue.”

“The IOC is fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year,” its response said.

And the IPC went further, maintaining that a series of counter-measures – including the roll-out of vaccines – have put it in a much stronger position than 10 months ago to stage a successful Games.

But Vicki Aggar, a Paralympic rowing bronze medallist in 2008 and the chairwoman of the British Athletes Commission, says that governing bodies are already trying to help athletes prepare for the possibility of both events being called off amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections worldwide.

She said that despite the outward optimism of the governing bodies, they are having private “mature conversations” with athletes to help them at least talk about the possibility of cancellation.

“The system is starting to get ready — I don’t think it’s fully ready for a ‘no-Games’ scenario,” she said.

“I think levels of anxiety are really being felt by athletes. Credit to the sports, they are having open conversations with athletes which is probably the most helpful thing in terms of managing [it] – that openness of conversation just helps the athletes’ mental health.”

“If you don’t get to the Games, and you were thinking of retiring, I think that’s a double whammy for someone’s mental health. If you were hoping for the podium, that’s their big last hurrah before retirement, so I really worry about those people.”

The BAC represents almost 1,400 elite athletes from over 40 sports. Earlier this week it announced that the number of cases it handled in 2020 had more than doubled compared to 2019, with athlete welfare issues the most common.

Japan hopes to start vaccinations in late February — and many believe that jabbing its 127 million citizens in time for July is key to the Games’ fate.

But uncertainty is growing that a nation ranked among the world’s lowest in vaccine confidence can pull off the massive project in time.

The BAC has heard concerns from athletes regarding the “moral dilemma” of receiving vaccinations in order to compete in Tokyo ahead of those in society who are more vulnerable, as well as around the inability to fairly measure themselves against their rivals in pre-Games competitions.

“Coming into a big Games year you want to know where you are in the world rankings — there are so many unknowns,” Aggar said.

Also yesterday, the British Athletics Indoor Championships – due to be staged in Glasgow next month – were cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The competition was the qualification event for the European Indoor Championships, which is scheduled to be held in Torun, Poland, from March 5-7. British Athletics says that smaller Covid-19-compliant event qualification opportunities for the European Championships are now being explored.

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