SYDNEY (Reuters) – Swimming Australia have called on the International Olympic Committee to ensure there is “a level playing field” if the Tokyo Games go ahead as athletes struggle to train properly because of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

In an open message of solidarity aimed at “peers and colleagues in every sport”, Swimming Australia offered their support to anyone affected by the pandemic, which has shut down pools and gyms in large parts of the world.

With IOC and Tokyo organisers saying they were continuing to plan for the Games to open on July 24, Swimming Australia said it should be taken into account that “athlete preparation is being severely compromised”.

“We hope the IOC … are considering everything they can to ensure that there is a level playing field, with athletes being able to perform in healthy conditions,” the message continued.

“We do understand that decisions about the Olympics … are extremely difficult to make, and that it would be devastating to all involved if cancelling or postponing becomes the outcome.

“At the heart of the Olympic … competition is the notion of fair play — a value we hold very close, and we do not want that to be compromised.”

Swimmers, like track and field athletes, are particularly sensitive to disruptions to their training regimes as they look to peak for a major championships.

United States backstroke specialist Jacob Pebley on Thursday called on USA Swimming to postpone June’s Olympic trials and lobby for the Tokyo Games to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Some athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, have gone further and accused the IOC of putting their health at risk by ploughing ahead with plans to hold the Games in July and August.

Swimming Australia said their team would continue to work hard to prepare for the Games but would not lose sight of the fact that some things are more important than sporting success.

“We love to compete, but the health and safety of everyone and the notion of fair competition should always be paramount,” the message said.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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