Rikako Ikee pleads for understanding amid calls for athletes to withdraw from Olympics

Reuters
New Delhi, Delhi, india Published: May 08, 2021, 02:10 PM(IST)

A file photo of Rikako Ikee. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who qualified for the Olympics after overcoming leukemia last year, asked the public to show patience and support for athletes amid mounting calls for them to pull out of the Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who qualified for the Olympics after overcoming leukemia last year, asked the public to show patience and support for athletes amid mounting calls for them to pull out of the Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 20-year-old's story has become a bright spot in a tortured build-up to the Olympics, with Japan's government facing increasing criticism for forging ahead during an upsurge in infections.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated that it is still possible to host the Games, due to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, even as a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas was extended on Friday until the end of May to stem a surge in infections.

Ikee said she and others will accept whatever the organizers decide.

"If there is one, we will of course do our best, and if not, we will just do our best for the next one," Ikee said in a post on Twitter on Friday.

Foreign spectators have been barred from attending the Games, and organizers will decide next month whether Japanese fans will be allowed into the venues.

Ikee also sought sympathy for athletes, who are being urged by critics to take individual decisions to try to persuade the organizers to call off the Games.

"It is very painful to put it on the individual athlete," she said.

"Even if you ask me to speak out against the Games, I can't change anything," she said, asking her fans to "warmly watch over the athletes who are working hard, no matter what the situation is."

Ikee, who won six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games, was expected to be one of Japan's top medal hopefuls at the Olympics before she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019.

Last month, Ikee wrapped up the national championships with four titles, including the women's 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle events, less than eight months after she returned to competition following her recovery.

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