Team Canada will not send athletes to Games in summer 2020 due to COVID-19 risks

These are not easy days. I’ve been on many calls today, listening to your Athletes’ Commission, your National Sports Organizations, Team Canada’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Wilkinson, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee discussing how they wanted to respond to today’s IOC statement and the global pandemic overall. It made me so incredibly proud to be the Chef de Mission of this team.

Together in harmony, the conversation was about making a strong statement; not about what will happen on July 24th, but about what is happening today in our communities, our country and globally. The desire to be role models and leaders in the efforts to flatten the curve and protect the vulnerable was repeated at all levels. The difficult decision was made to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020.

I can imagine this note is in part both crushing and a relief. We’ve been waiting for some real decisions. This is NOT about cancelling the Olympics. The COC’s position to the IOC will reiterate that qualified spots should remain qualified and that we look forward to the updated qualifying process for our remaining team members and that Team Canada is intent on participating. We will send our full team.

What we know about today is that there is no safe way for you to train for the Olympics. What we don’t want to do is put you, your coaches and your families at any risk by trying to be the exception to what is the consistent advice of our national health care professionals. The COC and the CPC are urgently calling on the IOC to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This statement means that for now… stay safe, maintain your social distance, and or self-isolation.

Now is the time to stay home; to keep your body active in a home workout or, if possible, in an isolated open space workout. Talk to your NSOs about further direction for suggestions on staying active.

The IOC has suggested that they would provide postponement options in four weeks. We still look forward to those. The situation we are all in is incredibly fast-moving. We just didn’t feel it was fair or safe to keep you in the dark for so long.

The leadership and compassion from COC President Tricia Smith and David Shoemaker, CEO of the COC has been incredibly inclusive and transparent. Tricia herself was an athlete on the boycotted 1980 Olympics and knows what it’s like to have a Games taken from an athlete. She is steadfast in her efforts for that not to happen again.

There is still a lot to unfold and there will be more answers to come. Please remember we are all in this together as Team Canada, and as a nation. The key is for the Olympics to happen when it is safe and responsible for everyone.

Marnie McBean OC OLY
Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020

Nous ne vivons pas une période facile. J’ai participé à plusieurs appels téléphoniques aujourd’hui où j’ai entendu votre Commission des athlètes, vos organismes nationaux de sport, le chef des services médicaux d’Équipe Canada Dr Mike Wilkinson, le Comité olympique canadien (COC) et le Comité paralympique canadien (CPC) discuter de leur réponse à la déclaration du CIO aujourd’hui et à la pandémie mondiale dans son ensemble. Cela m’a rendue incroyablement fière d’être la chef de mission de cette équipe.

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An Open Letter to Team Canada re:Covid19

March 17, 2020
Dear Team Canada,

 Earlier today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. With four months to go before the Games, it will refrain from making any further decisions at this time. We support this move by the IOC—we all hope and are continuing to plan for the Olympics to proceed in July—but our hope needs to be put in context.

The current pandemic is among the most challenging health issues that we have had to confront in many generations. Lives are at risk on a global basis, and there is an unprecedented level of worry and anxiety in our communities. Sport, understandably and appropriately, ranks low in terms of these priorities and we have seen many sport leagues and circuits suspend operations during this crisis without any clear sense of when normal operations will resume.  

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Whoa: This got real. Fast. – March 16, 2020

<La version français suite>

Last week, when all professional sports leagues suspended their seasons, travel advisories were announced and pretty much every international event was put on hold, COVID-19 went from something that was happening on the news to something more personal.

This pandemic is disrupting more than just your preparation and competitions, it’s challenging and changing… everything.  It’s very likely that your training has been disrupted. Perhaps you were outside of Canada and you’ve listened to Federal Government’s advice to return, possibly separating you from teammates and coaches. Many “right” decisions feel counter to our personal goals right now, but they are in the best interest of all.

At this time, it’s expected that these measures will affect our daily lives into April and May.  It’s easy to wonder how this could possibly be resolved by mid-July. There is no playbook, there is no precedent. For sure – I’m concerned; sometimes scared, but also, sometimes I’m okay. Allow yourself to be optimistic.

In conversation with Dr. Karen MacNeill, our Lead Mental Health Counsellor for the Tokyo 2020 Team we discussed the need to take care of our mental health as much as our physical health. I really appreciated her thoughts and I’d like to share them with you.

How we protect our physical health is being communicated to us repeatedly; wash your hands, keep your social distancing and avoid unnecessary contact with immunocompromised individuals.

But what about our mental health?

FOCUS ON FACTS.  An anxious brain will create a false narrative. Try to reduce your exposure to speculation and hyperbole that can be fed to us on social media sources. Focus on what we know, not what we don’t.

FOCUS ON TODAY.  Be careful with “What-If?”.  There is no crystal ball to tell us when the worst of this will be upon us, and so we can’t know when it will be getting better and… as we are desperate to know – when we will get back to normal? Be mindful; avoid too many what-if’s that you can’t support with a positive outcome. Challenge yourself to stay present and boost your mindfulness practice to minimize ‘what-if’ orientation and maximize mental fitness training by simply focusing on the breath.

​BE COMPASSIONATE. Stay community focused. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to schools and groups I’ve spoken to that being an Olympic athlete is a privilege and a passion. Let’s live our role-model messaging; today’s issues are way bigger than sport. The discomfort of having to give up on our “Plan-A” to the podium, or having to wait for IF’s and NSO’s to communicate what new qualifying paths are going to be is nothing in contrast to the discomfort that people are feeling.  

BE READY TO RISE. As you can, stay focused on getting stronger, faster and better than you were yesterday. At some point, normalcy will begin to return and sport will start again.  Plan to be the one, the team, that takes advantage of this situation. Be ready to rise.

It’s normal to have emotions that are all over the board. The unpredictable nature of the spread of this virus can leave us feeling out of control. These are stressful times. How we feel and how we manage this will be different.  Stress is good, it leads us to good decision making and will help us make safe choices. But when stress starts to overwhelm us, we begin to overestimate the threat and underestimate our ability to cope. If you find yourself in this situation, please talk with someone.

If you feel you are experiencing anxiety, please talk to someone.

If you haven’t registered to receive the Athlete365, notices from the IOC to Olympic athletes, you can here.

Take care, ​​

Marnie McBean OC OLY
Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020

Woah! La réalité nous rattrape rapidement. – 16 mars 2020

La semaine dernière, quand toutes les ligues professionnelles de sport ont suspendu leurs activités, des avertissements aux voyageurs ont été annoncés et presque tous les événements internationaux ont été mis en veilleuse, la COVID-19 est passée d’un phénomène qui faisait partie de l’actualité à quelque chose de plus personnel.

Cette pandémie perturbe plus que votre préparation et vos compétitions, elle représente un défi et change… tout. Il est très probable que votre entraînement ait été perturbé. Peut-être étiez-vous à l’extérieur du Canada et avez-vous écouté le conseil du gouvernement fédéral de rentrer au pays, ce qui vous a peut-être séparé de vos coéquipiers et entraîneurs. De nombreuses « bonnes » décisions semblent contraires à nos objectifs personnels en ce moment, mais elles sont dans l’intérêt supérieur de tous.

Pour le moment, il semble que ces mesures affecteront notre vie quotidienne jusqu’en avril et mai. Il est facile de se demander comment cette situation pourrait être résolue d’ici la mi-juillet. Il n’y a pas de manuel d’instructions, il n’y a pas de précédent. Bien sûr – je suis inquiète; parfois j’ai peur, mais aussi, parfois ça va. Permettez-vous d’être optimiste.

Au cours d’une conversation avec Dre Karen MacNeill, notre conseillère principale en santé mentale pour l’équipe de Tokyo 2020, nous avons discuté de la nécessité de prendre soin de notre santé mentale autant que de notre santé physique. J’ai vraiment apprécié ses réflexions et j’aimerais les partager avec vous.

 La façon de protéger notre santé physique nous est communiquée sans arrêt; lavez-vous les mains, pratiquez la distanciation sociale et évitez tout contact inutile avec des personnes immunodéprimées. 

Mais qu’en est-il de notre santé mentale?

CONCENTREZ-VOUS SUR LES FAITS. Un cerveau anxieux produira un message trompeur. Essayez de réduire votre exposition à la spéculation et à l’hyperbole qui peuvent nous être transmises par le biais des réseaux sociaux. Concentrez-vous sur ce que nous savons, pas sur ce que nous ne savons pas.

CONCENTREZ-VOUS SUR AUJOURD’HUI. Faites attention aux hypothèses. Il n’y a pas de boule de cristal pour nous dire quand la situation sera à son pire, donc nous ne pouvons pas savoir quand les choses iront mieux et … comme nous voulons désespérément le savoir – quand la situation reviendra-t-elle à la normale? Faites attention; évitez trop d’hypothèses que vous ne pouvez pas soutenir avec un résultat positif. Mettez-vous au défi de rester présent(e) et stimulez votre pratique de la pleine conscience afin de minimiser l’effet des hypothèses et de maximiser la préparation mentale en vous concentrant simplement sur la respiration.

SOYEZ COMPATISSANT(E). Restez concentré(e) sur la communauté. Je ne peux pas compter le nombre de fois où j’ai dit aux écoles et aux groupes auxquels j’ai parlé que le fait d’être un(e) athlète olympique est un privilège et une passion. Mettons en pratique le message que nous transmettons en tant que modèle; les enjeux d’aujourd’hui sont bien plus importants que le sport. L’inconvénient de devoir abandonner notre « Plan A » vers le podium ou d’attendre que les FI et les ONS communiquent ce que seront les nouveaux systèmes de qualification n’est rien comparativement aux inconvénients que vivent la population.

SOYEZ PRÊT(E) À BRILLER. Dans la mesure du possible, restez concentré(e) sur le fait de devenir plus fort(e), plus rapide et meilleur(e) que vous ne l’étiez hier. À un certain point, les choses commenceront à revenir à la normale et les activités sportives reprendront. Prévoyez d’être la personne et/ou l’équipe, qui profitera de cette situation. Soyez prêt(e) à briller.

C’est normal de passer par toute la gamme des émotions. La nature imprévisible de la propagation de ce virus peut nous faire sentir que nous n’avons aucun contrôle sur la situation. Il s’agit d’une période stressante. La façon de ressentir et de gérer la situation est différente d’une personne à l’autre. Le stress est une bonne chose, il nous aide à prendre de bonnes décisions et nous aidera à faire des choix sécuritaires. Cependant, quand le stress commence à prendre le dessus, nous commençons à surestimer la menace et à sous-estimer notre capacité à y faire face. Si vous vous trouvez dans cette situation, veuillez en parler à quelqu’un.

Si vous ressentez de l’anxiété, veuillez en parler à quelqu’un.

Si vous ne vous êtes pas inscrit(e) pour recevoir les avis Athlete365 du CIO aux athlètes olympiques, vous pouvez le faire ici.

Prenez soin de vous,​

Change, challenge & a quick word on COVID-19

Canada’s Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle, post race., 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Tragically, a bomb had gone off the night before creating uncertainty if the Games would continue or not . (CP PHOTO/COA/Mike Ridewood)

<La version française suit>

Everyone seems to be talking about the COVID-19 and increasingly your Olympics are being pulled into the conversation.  As your Chef de Mission, I want you to know that our priority is the health and safety of every Team Canada member. Stay focused on your preparation, the Tokyo 2020 Games are still very much on. As we all do with all the unplanned events that happen between now and the Games – we will assess and respond accordingly. Talk to your coaches and team leaders; be informed, and try not to let all the speculation distract you. The night before my Olympic final in Atlanta, a bomb went off tragically killing and injuring people. I woke not knowing if there would be delays or cancellations to my race; we didn’t know until we got to our venue what was going to happen. I’m glad we chose to stay focused and arrive ready; it was a gold medal day. The current situation is more drawn out which allows for more uncertainty and speculation. The COC is working with the IOC and our own medical team on this quickly evolving situation to protect your health and performance. We are all in this together and will do our best to keep you informed. 

There are less than 150 days until the Olympics. (How did that happen?!)

What’s your goal? When you are at the Closing Ceremony – how do you want to feel?

At the Sochi Olympics I had separate but similar conversations with two different athletes from completely different sports. A few days before their competitions, both athletes remarked that after everything they had done and everything they had been through – they just wanted to come off their field-of-play happy. (Both of these athletes were medalists from Vancouver, and… spoiler alert– both would win medals again in Sochi.)

Without question a gold medal was their target, but as veterans, they knew another goal had to be to “finish happy”. In competition – all you can control is you; we hope that our performance is the best out there. But you can’t control your competitors, the conditions or the judges… winning is uncontrollable. At the end of the day, regardless of the result – you want to know you did EVERYTHING that you could do to reach your goal. No matter what happens – at least part of you should be happy with knowing you did that.

So, separately over a coffee before their competitions began, we strategized about how to make “happy” happen. How do we finish happy and why is it important? Sure, winning alone can make you happy (and/or relieved) – but you can’t walk onto your field-of-play feeling that something isn’t right and expect sport to magically make you happy. That’s your job. That’s on you to control. Odds are high that if you weren’t happy starting the competition it’s because you know something has been left undone. So… if the goal is to come off the field-of play happy– these veterans knew that it was important to go onto the field-of-play happy. They also agreed it’s easier to win that way! <wink> 


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