Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic chiefs are adamant there will be no compromise on the size or ambitions of their respective delegations despite ongoing uncertainty over the status of this summer’s delayed Games.
Surging coronavirus rates, a state of emergency and increasingly unfavourable polls in host city Tokyo have continued to raise concerns over both the practicality and legitimacy of tens of thousands of visitors congregating for the opening ceremony on July 23.
But Team GB Chef de Mission Mark England maintains his confidence in the Games going ahead broadly on its original scale remains “absolute”, while his British Paralympic Association counterpart Penny Briscoe envisages a “different” but “incredibly positive” event.
Ten shooting competitors were confirmed in their respective squads on Wednesday as domestic preparations for the Games continued, and for England staging the Games on such a scale will have a “higher purpose” beyond the routine narrative revolving around medals tables.
England told the PA news agency: “My confidence in the Games taking place has been absolute from the outset.
“We are still shooting for 375 to 380 athletes and taking a delegation of 800 or 900 to Tokyo, which will be an achievement in itself, and one to celebrate.
“We are going to Tokyo to compete to the best of our ability, and I know the public want to see British athletes on the podium and British gold medallists.
“But I think the higher purpose is important. This is an important moment in time to show British athletes and Olympians at their best, and to really showcase some of the humanity that they’ve brought, and how they’ve been hugely resilient and imaginative in terms of how they’ve continued to train.
“This is our job – our job is to take athletes to the Games. That’s why I and others are working night and day to make sure this is the best and safest environment we could possibly create. These athletes deserve it, that’s the bottom line.”
Games organisers suffered a twin blow last week when a state of emergency was declared in the greater Tokyo area – in reality a mild lockdown in comparison to current British measures – while 80 per cent of respondents to a poll suggested the Games should be cancelled or delayed again.
But the roll-out of vaccinations across the globe has simultaneously raised hopes, sparking an ethical debate over the potential prioritisation of Tokyo-bound athletes, which has been firmly rejected both by England and Paralympics GB’s Briscoe.
Briscoe said: “We have athletes who have already received their first vaccine and that is very welcome news for those who have high support needs or are deemed vulnerable. But the resounding feedback from athletes is that they do not feel they should be prioritised.”
Like England, Briscoe is working on the basis of selecting a full team for the Paralympics, adding that athletes will be given the opportunity to opt out if they fear their own health needs will be compromised by heading to Japan.
Both the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee have consistently stated their commitment to their original schedules, with no indication of any mandatory reduction in terms of events or the numbers of athletes involved.
“My crystal ball says there is a high probability that the Games will happen and I think the position is pragmatically positive,” said Briscoe.
“Without doubt there is a sense of where are we going next with this pandemic. It is about clear and honest communication as to what the situation is, and each team member will clearly have the option to either opt in or opt out – but these are decisions that will come much further down the track.
“It won’t be the same Games, it will be a different Games, but I think different is OK. I think different in the current circumstances can still be incredibly positive.”