2016 U.S. Olympian and current National Team-er Jacob Pebley has posted a letter to Instagram addressing USA Swimming, urging the organization to postpone the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials and publicly advocate to push back the 2020 Olympic Games.
The U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials are a USOC property.
As the coronavirus pandemic ensues on a global scale, and U.S. cities are in lockdown or are actively considering shelter in place mandates, Pebley’s comments (in full below) echo concerns that late spring and summer events like the Olympic Trials and the Olympics are still going on as scheduled. While we’ve seen advocacy for the Games to go on in an appeal to the spirit of sport and competition, Pebley gives voice to caution in the face of a virus that has already proved itself incredibly deadly and very damaging to the economy and everyday life.
Pebley’s letter notes his ‘deep concern’ with the recent statements from the IOC saying they are still going forward with the 2020 Games. The IOC, along with organizers in Tokyo, have persisted with communications that the pandemic won’t affect the Olympics, though one organizer mentioned the possibility of delaying the Games and later apologized. Today, IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Kirsty Coventry took to Twitter after a two-hour all with all 220 athlete reps, saying that athletes had several concerns about training and qualifications but that they ‘want the Games to continue.’ Pebley’s comments are the opposite.
“How can we, members of Team USA and role models for hundreds of thousands of young athletes, attend Olympic Trials/the Olympics in good conscience? To do so would fly in the face of all emerging evidence and best practices for social distancing and protecting the health of vulnerable communities,” writes Pebley in his letter.
Pebley also points out the movements by governments worldwide to close public spaces and businesses, noting, “even if Trials or the Olympics were to be held without spectators, the events would still necessitate extensive travel and interaction among thousands of athletes/staff/media– all potential vectors for spread of a virus we barely understand and do not have the resources to effectively treat or prevent at the moment.”
Next, he mentions the unequal playing field brought about by this pandemic, with athletes dealing with closed training facilities and living in varying levels of isolation depending on where they live. Indeed, ongoing measures by governments worldwide to keep people in their homes have varying negative effects on swimmers depending on the location.
“USA Swimming has the opportunity to lead the push for the only moral option in light of this unprecedented situation,” said Pebley in his closing statements.
The U.S. Olympic Trials are still scheduled for June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska, while several major nations have pushed back their trials or have canceled them altogether. See a running list of international Olympic trials changes and cancellations here.