Olympic organizers reverse course, will allow breastfeeding athletes to bring babies to Tokyo

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Olympic organizers say they've reversed a policy that would have prevented breastfeeding moms from bringing their children to Japan for the 2021 Summer Games.

Organizers have reduced delegation sizes and prohibited athletes' family members from accompanying them to the Olympics as part of strict COVID-19 countermeasures. The Tokyo organizing committee had, previously, denied requests for exemptions from moms with young children.

“However," the organizing committee said Wednesday, "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."

Just two days earlier, an International Olympic Committee spokesperson, citing Japanese authorities, had told Yahoo Sports that it was "highly unlikely" that any "unaccredited people from overseas" — which would have include infants and caregivers — would be granted entry into Japan for the Games. An organizing committee spokesperson had said Monday that it had "basically been decided to give up on allowing athletes’ family members and other companions."

Aliphine Tuliamuk poses after winning the women's U.S. Olympic marathon trials last February. She has since given birth and wants to bring her daughter to the Tokyo Games. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Aliphine Tuliamuk poses after winning the women's U.S. Olympic marathon trials last February. She has since given birth and wants to bring her daughter to the Tokyo Games. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The organizing committee's Monday statement left the door open to amendments in "special circumstances, particularly with regard to infant children." But a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee official told Yahoo Sports that Tokyo organizers had declined a request from U.S. marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk, who wanted to bring her 5-month-old daughter, Zoe, to the Games. Tuliamuk and Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher, also a new mother, had been preparing to travel without their infants.

"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," Tuliamuk wrote on social media late Sunday night. "I know that I will be leaving her for only 10 days, and she will be just fine, and that so many other moms have done the same, but I can’t even imagine being away from her for half a day. My throat is lumpy."

Gaucher had said she was being "forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete. ... Tokyo has said, 'No friends, no family, no exceptions.'"

"People have told me to try to pump [breast milk] like mad," Gaucher said in an Instagram video last week. "Um, I don't have enough milk in me to train as a high-level athlete, get my butt back in shape, and feed her currently, all while stocking 28 days' supply. We've looked into shipping milk, we've run into some complications. We're still exploring that option. But it's not going to be easy."

Gaucher said she'd "tried all the traditional routes. We've tried appeals. Everyone says they're on board, but nobody can do anything."

As of Wednesday morning, neither Gaucher nor Tuliamuk had publicly acknowledged the reversal of the policy. But David Shoemaker, the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, which had been working with Gaucher, said he was "pleased to hear that Tokyo 2020 approved our request to allow nursing mothers to have their children at the Games."

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