Hosting the Olympic Games in the midst of an ongoing pandemic—and as COVID cases rise in Tokyo—has proved difficult, to say the least. Stringent restrictions have been put in place to keep everyone involved in the Games healthy, but they’ve also led to some serious challenges for many Olympic athletes. Recently, some women Olympians have called out the Games organizers for forcing them to make a particular decision between their family and their career. To see why these women are slamming officials, read on.
As if competing in the Olympics is not a big enough challenge, athletes who are breastfeeding will need to make tough decisions about bringing their babies with them or not. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Olympics initially said they were not allowing international guests of competitors, such as friends and family members, to accompany them, which led a number of nursing parent athletes to challenge the Games organizers.
U.S. marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk wrote on Instagram of her seven-month-old daughter, “I had been putting off thinking about Zoe not coming to Tokyo with me for a while now, but I had to start to, at team processing a week ago in Eugene, and I have cried a lot since.” Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher (seen here) shared an emotional video on Instagram saying she was “being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete.”
the Washington Post reports that at least 12 athletes from the U.S. are mothers, including sprinter Allyson Felix and soccer player Alex Morgan. After a handful of breastfeeding athletes complained about the situation, with Tuliamuk being the most vocal, the Olympics offered a compromise.
“Given that the Tokyo 2020 Games will take place during a pandemic, overall we must, unfortunately, decline to permit athletes’ family members or other companions to accompany them to the Games,” organizers said on June 30, according to Reuters. “However, after careful consideration of the unique situation facing athletes with nursing children, we are pleased to confirm that, when necessary, nursing children will be able to accompany athletes to Japan.”
Tuliamuk, who petitioned for her infant daughter to be permitted at the Games, felt like the change was a victory. “In a way, I feel like I’m that turning point,” Tuliamuk told the Washington Post. “I’m the point between the past, where female athletes wouldn’t talk about their pregnancies because they were afraid they would lose their sponsorships, and the future. Now other athletes will be able to look at my story and say if she did it, I can do it, too. It’s a new era.”
While Tuliamuk is celebrating, not all athletes feel similarly.
the catch for these athletes is that their nursing children will not be allowed in the Olympic or Paralympic Village, which are restricted to Games participants and team officials only to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID. therefore, the children will have to stay in private accommodations approved by Tokyo 2020.
the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told Today that breastfeeding mothers will be able to stay outside of the Olympic Village with their child, and a caretaker or partner can accompany the child to aid them. While this may seem like a solution, athletes are anxious to make the decision to either put their teammates at an increased risk of contracting COVID by staying outside of the Olympic and Paralympic Village or leave their child home while they compete.
Synchronized swimmer and two-time Olympic medalist Ona Carbonell claimed on her Instagram that her baby, Kai, and his father wouldn’t be allowed to leave the hotel room for the 20-plus days she would be in Tokyo. “For me to go and breastfeed Kai whenever he needs it during the day, I would have to leave the Olympic villa, the team’s bubble, and go to their hotel, risking my team’s health during the Olympic Games,” she said while breastfeeding in a video.
Carbonell ultimately decided that she had to leave her son home. She expressed her “disappointment and disillusionment” at not being able to travel to the Olympics with her breastfeeding son because of “extremely drastic measures,” which she felt made the option of bringing her son “impossible.”
She felt that she was forced to “make a really tough decision” to leave her son at home “because the Japanese government’s impositions are not compatible with my athletic performance and being with my family at the same time.”
Other breastfeeding athletes also had to make the same difficult decision. Tuliamuk is bringing her daughter with her, but competes on an individual level; Gaucher is also bringing her daughter; Morgan chose to leave her daughter at home; and it’s unclear what Felix has decided.