Athletics Australia (AA) has played down the suggestion the Queensland government provided NRL players with “preferential treatment” ahead of its Tokyo-bound Olympians.
- Athletics Australia says it made the decision to keep eight athletes based in Sydney
- The athletes will complete their preparations in Sydney before flying to Tokyo
- All NRL clubs are based in Queensland for at least the next month
Two-time Olympian Eloise Wellings, writing on Instagram, questioned why eight track and field athletes were stuck in Sydney during the city’s lockdown and unable to join the rest of their teammates at a training camp in Cairns.
Wellings, who is not competing in Tokyo, suggested it was “double standards” that NRL players and staff from 12 clubs were moving to Queensland for at least a month to join the rest of the competition and keep the premiership going.
AA released a statement on Wednesday saying the eight athletes, including Anneliese Rubie-Renshaw and Steven Solomon, had not been granted exemptions from Queensland’s quarantine rules.
But AA said the Queensland government had offered the athletes the opportunity to enter hotel quarantine “with opportunities to train separately”.
AA determined the athletes would gain greater benefit remaining in their “home training environment in Sydney”.
The NRL players and officials, who have moved interstate to Queensland, will be restricted to their hotels for their quarantine period and provided with access to training and match-day facilities.
“Our high-performance team looked at every consideration and decided against a two-week hotel quarantine in Queensland, which meant the athletes would still not have been with the rest of the team in camp,” AA president Mark Arbib told The Ticket.
“To be at home with their coaches and support staff, with access to regular training and heat facilities to replicate the humidity they’ll experience in Tokyo, was a much better option.
“That decision was made earlier this week, but when the NRL news broke, naturally it raised concerns for us about preferential treatment.
Rubie-Renshaw said missing the opportunity to acclimatise to hot and humid conditions similar to Tokyo was not ideal for the Sydney-based athletes.
But she said they had at least been provided with a degree of certainty about where they stood before leaving for Tokyo.
“Athletics Australia is doing everything they obviously can within their power … we’ve been given a decision that it’s not going to happen, so now we have that clarity we can just focus on preparing the best we can,” Rubie-Renshaw said.
“The uncertainty of not knowing where we’re going to be preparing or travelling from was a bit stressful, so we’ve just decided that from now on this is where we’re going to be preparing.”
The Cairns-based members of Australia’s track and field squad will need to fly back to Sydney prior to leaving for Tokyo.
Given Japan’s strict requirements, the athletes can only fly into the country five days before their events.
For Rubie-Renshaw and the seven other athletes in Sydney, it means they will be flying from the middle of Australia’s winter to the heat and humidity of Tokyo’s stifling summer.
They will arrive in Japan four days before they compete.
“We’ve actually started doing a few things at the [Australian] Institute of Sport to try and adjust our bodies, like jumping in the steam room after we’ve done a gym session … to get our bodies adjusted to that,” Rubie-Renshaw said.
“We’re really lucky they have a heat chamber so they can set the temperature in a little room and we are able to do limited training there.”
The Australian Olympic Committee has confirmed most athletes will return to Australia 24 hours after finishing their competition.
Rubie-Renshaw staying ‘positive’
Rubie-Renshaw said the Sydney-based athletes were given a false sense of hope when they heard the NRL was relocating players to Queensland.
“We’ve got a little group thread going between all the athletes in Sydney and we were like, ‘Yes, this is great news, it gives us hope, this is amazing, they’re letting other athletes go so we’ll be next,'” she said.
“It was disappointing to hear we weren’t included.
“We are Olympians, we’ve dealt with so much, we’re at the pinnacle of the sport and we know how to harness that mental strength and resilience that we’ve been training for over years and years, so this is just the final push.
“We need to stay positive and banded together as a team to be able to get there and I’m sure once we land in Tokyo and we’re off the plane we’ll completely forget about the lockdown behind us.”
Australia’s track and field athletes will be some of the last to arrive in Tokyo, with their events not scheduled to begin until the second week of the Games.
The athletes’ village officially opened on Tuesday but unlike other Olympics there was little fanfare.
Tokyo continues to struggle to find a balance between hosting the Olympics and being considerate of an aging population, which overwhelmingly does not want the Games, as it fears it may lead to the spread of COVID-19 in Japan.