Prior to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone Tokyo 2020, the Canadian Olympic Committee had taken the lead in saying it would not send athletes to the Games if they were to be held this summer.
It was a move applauded by four-time Olympic kayaker and current member of Parliament Adam van Koeverden, who says he agreed with Canada’s decision, calling the move “appropriate, brave, and well timed.”
CBC Sports caught up with the Olympic gold medallist for his thoughts on the postponement of the 2020 Games.
CBC Sports: Before the announcement on Monday, what were you thinking from a former athlete perspective as far as, at that point, it was looking like athletes may still be expected to go to the Games this summer?
Adam van Koeverden: I recognize the difficulty that a lot of athletes were experiencing. There are some athletes that can continue to train. If they are long distance runners or something like that, they can maintain some degree of training load, but for athletes that train in facilities or interacted physically — it was impossible for swimmers, wrestlers, basketball players, soccer players, they weren’t able to train.
It was at a certain point that I recognized that all of their preparations are being impacted and all along I was thinking the Olympics have never been cancelled outside of a war, so they’ll find a way to go on. I wasn’t shocked to see they were going to be postponed and I certainly wasn’t shocked to see the Canadian Olympic team statement on Sunday night and I think it was the right one and I think it was appropriate and also brave and well timed.
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CBC Sports: Did you put yourself in the shoes of an athlete and how would you have felt about the Games being postponed?
van Koeverden: I don’t have to use my imagination that much to put myself in the shoes of an Olympic athlete. I competed at the last summer Olympics, so I feel the same emotions I suppose. I’m not actively engaged, but empathy is easy in this scenario for me. It just becomes impossible for so many athletes. The preparation becomes untenable and the Canadian Olympic Committee had to recognize this and they did — that it was impossible for them to continue to encourage athletes to prepare and it became unfair.
CBC Sports: Do you see a positive side to moving the Games to next year?
van Koeverden: At junctures like this, I don’t think there’s positive or negative — I see practicality. The only feasible way to hold the Olympics is to do it another time. If you are asking about a silver lining, I’m not thinking about that. I’m not being optimistic or pessimistic, I’m just being practical.
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CBC Sports: In your role as a politician and your involvement with the Ministry of Sport, how has that aspect been for you?
van Koeverden: Lately I have just been reaching out to the national sports organizations and responding to the concerns of athletes on behalf of the minister when appropriate and just hearing their concerns. The government can take appropriate measures and actions to ensure that athletes feel secure and sports organizations feel secure … so we’re just reaching out to our community and stakeholders and making sure we’re taking as much feedback as possible and just listening. I think at this point we just have to hear what everybody’s issues, concerns, and problems are before we start creating an action plan going forward.
CBC Sports:There didn’t seem to be much pushback from Canada and around the world to postpone the Games, is that how you saw it?
van Koeverden: Athletes are good at dealing with ups and downs — that’s the nature of being in competition. You win some, you lose some and everybody recognizes that this is fair and equitable. It doesn’t really matter when the start gun goes, when the whistle goes, it’s just a matter of being ready on the day. The earlier the better when it comes to planning and now the COC and Canadian Olympians and Paralympians can focus on their collective health and their families rather than worrying about how you get on the field of play during this really difficult time.