Coronavirus will not deter athletes, says hockey champion Dwyer

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[March 20, 2020]  By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted Olympic qualifying and put the whole Games in doubt but most athletes would be prepared to make big compromises to compete at Tokyo, Australia's field hockey gold medalist Jamie Dwyer has told Reuters.

The outbreak has infected over 242,000 people and killed nearly 10,000, bringing global sport to a virtual standstill and prompting calls for the July 24-Aug. 9 Olympics to be canceled or postponed.

Four-times Olympian Dwyer, however, said denying athletes the chance to compete at the Games was a decision that should not be taken lightly.

"The Olympics arenít until the end of July, so thereís still a long time to go before we get to cancelling or making plan B," the 41-year-old Queenslander said in an interview.

"Itís every four years. Itís not like we get this shot every year or two."

A member of the Athletes' Commission of the Australian Olympic Committee, Dwyer says he has not heard concerns about the coronavirus from any aspiring Olympians Down Under.

Most would gladly sign up for Tokyo, he added, even if spectators were banned or some nations were blocked from participating due to the coronavirus.

"If I had a choice between playing at the Olympics with no crowd or not going at all, Iíd take no crowds any day," said Dwyer, who won men's hockey gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and bronze medals at Beijing in 2008 and London four years later.

He also competed at the 2016 Games in Rio.

"I know in Australia, the majority would take that option, too.

"Iím 100% sure, whether youíre a hockey player a swimmer or whatever, youíd take that opportunity to go.

ďHow big are the compromises? If one country canít come, or even 10 countries canít come, itís a shame but itís not the end of the world.

"If 50% canít come, well, yeah, youíve probably got a bit of a problem."

The immediate problem facing organizers is qualifying, with athletes struggling to train, travel or compete.

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Jamie Dwyer (AUS) of Australia competes. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Tokyo is set to host some 11,000 athletes and almost 60% have already earned their spot. The remainder will clinch their places through modified qualifiers or previous performances based on ranking.

"Athletes do tend to roll with the punches, but I think qualifiers are the biggest issue -- how are they going to qualify over the next three months?" said Dwyer.

"All of these events are getting shut down.

"The lack of competition is quite difficult and a distraction but itís the same for every country at the moment."

In his AOC capacity, Dwyer said he would support any athlete who decided to skip the Games for health concerns but would encourage them not to rush into such a decision.

"If they were that scared and didnít want to go, thatís up to the athlete. But you donít want to make that (decision) now," he said.

"You want to make that decision a couple of days before the team heads off to the Olympics if you decide youíre not going to go."

Running a hockey equipment company under his "JDH" brand, Dwyer is seeing first-hand how the coronavirus is affecting the sports business, with major competitions postponed or scrapped as part of containment efforts.

Cancelling the Olympics would mean another economic hit for an industry already suffering.

"What about the thousands of jobs, the billions of dollars spent?" he asked.

"I know retailers all round the world are really hurting and the small businesses, like myself.

"Itís pretty tough I guess when thereís no sport."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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