Pebley calls on USA Swimming to postpone Olympic trials

FILE PHOTO: Swimming - Men's 200m Backstroke - Heats

By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) - United States backstroke specialist Jacob Pebley has called on USA Swimming to postpone June's Olympic trials and lobby for the Tokyo Games to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I am deeply concerned by the IOC's recent statement that they are essentially continuing with business as usual despite the growing evidence that COVID-19 will remain a massive threat for the foreseeable future," he wrote in an Instagram post on Thursday.

"How can we, members of Team USA and role models for hundreds of thousands of young athletes, attend Olympic trials/the Olympics in good conscience?

"To do so would fly in the face of all emerging evidence and best practices for social distancing and protecting the health of vulnerable communities," said the 26-year-old, currently a member of the national team.

Pebley, who competed at the 2016 Rio Games, said even if the Olympics was held without spectators, the events would still require extensive travel and interaction among thousands of athletes, staff and media, which could spread the virus.

"Athletes across the globe have been impacted differently by the rapidly evolving closure of training facilities. This creates a radically unequal playing field for Olympic hopefuls," he said.

"Holding Trials and the Olympics as currently scheduled provides impetus for athletes, some of whom can't even leave their homes right now by law, to defy public health orders and advice given by medical authorities.

"USA Swimming has the opportunity to lead the push for the only moral option in light of this unprecedented situation,"

"I am asking USA Swimming to publicly advocate for the postponement of both Trials and the Olympic Games in the best interest of vulnerable people and already overburdened health systems around the world."

USA Swimming did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pebley joins a growing chorus of athletes who believe the Games should be postponed.

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have repeatedly said the Games, scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9, will go ahead as planned.

The coronavirus has infected 242,000 people and killed nearly 10,000 worldwide.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)