MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe says athletes should not put their Olympic dreams before their health in deciding whether to compete at the Tokyo Games as global health authorities battle to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
The flu-like virus is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.
A number of international sports events have been hit by the coronavirus, with some competitions being postponed and others canceled outright, and there are concerns that the outbreak might scupper the Tokyo Olympics.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound told Reuters on Wednesday that organizers would “reluctantly” have to cancel the Games if the coronavirus developed into a serious pandemic.
Thorpe said athlete safety should come above all else.
“I would most definitely be concerned,” the five-times Olympic champion told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
“What we need to know is to use some of the best expert disease specialists to find out what is the risk to the team. What is the risk to the other nations and how can we have an Olympic Games, one that is safe, that doesn’t put athletes at risk?
“I think the decision should come down to each individual athlete. But whether or not they want to compete, that they should take their health into consideration first.”
Australia’s Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman said on Wednesday the coronavirus was a serious concern but athletes were being instructed to prepare as if they were going to Tokyo as scheduled.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)