Olympic officials are defending the support system they have in place for the U.S. Paralympian swimming team after an athlete withdrew from the Tokyo Games after being denied a request to bring her own personal care assistant.
“The safety, well-being and positive experience of all Team USA athletes is our number one priority,” the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said in a statement, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
“We take pride in being the best-prepared [national Olympic committee] and [national Paralympic committee] in the world, and that includes supporting all athletes as they navigate the excitement, and complexity, of the Olympic or Paralympic Games.”
Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer with Usher syndrome, said she was denied a personal care assistant, so she dropped out of the games because she did not believe she would have the support to navigate Tokyo.
“I would love to go to Tokyo,” the 26-year-old told The Washington Post. “Swimming has given me my identity as a person. I’ve always been Becca the Swimmer Girl. I haven’t taken this lightly. This has been very difficult for me. [But] I need to say something to effect change, because this can’t go on any longer.”
Meyers said she believed she was denied such an assistant because if the team let her have one, all 34 members would have to have one.
The USOPC has received harsh backlash from politicians and the public but is defending its decision, saying the organization is in a tough situation with personnel restrictions in Tokyo due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the case of U.S. Paralympics Swimming, there is a designated Personal Care Assistant (PCA) assigned to the team,” the statement said. “This PCA has more than 27 years of coaching experience, including 11 years with para swimmers. Because of the complex nature of these games, the role of the PCA has been filled by a qualified staff member who is able to serve in dual roles and who can assist the team as a whole when needed. This PCA joins a staff of 10 additional accomplished swim professionals, all who have experience with blind swimmers; totaling 11 staff for 34 athletes.
“Beyond the coaching, team management, medical and personal care staff specific to U.S. Paralympics Swimming, the USOPC offers every athlete a robust portfolio of resources inclusive of sports medicine, athlete services and a newly created mental health program among others,” the statement continued.
However, Meyers's family said they have contacted the Japanese government through the Maryland secretary of state and that the government said the USOPC was blocking more assistants from being added.
“We contacted the Maryland secretary of state. We had somebody contact the Japanese government, the ambassador — they all say it’s not the government [and] it’s not the organizing committee. It’s the USOPC that’s blocking this,” Mark Meyers, the swimmer's father, said. “They can ask for more [official credentials]. ... They just did not plan for her. They knew about this [issue] in February. They said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’ They’ve had time to fix this, if they asked the right people. They’ve chosen not to.”
The USOPC maintains the situation is out of their control.
“We are confident in the level of support we will offer Team USA,” the statement said, “and look forward to providing them a positive athlete experience even in the most unprecedented times.”