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Olympic organisers defend COVID rules amid breastfeeding athletes row – ‘We tried to find solutions’

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Tokyo Olympics organisers have defended their strict coronavirus protocols after a Spanish swimmer shared her anguish at being forced to leave her breastfeeding child at home.

Officials in Japan said on Saturday they have tried to find solutions for athletes with young children following complaints from synchronised swimmer Ona Carbonell.

She expressed anguish in an Instagram post at having to travel to Tokyo without her husband and son, Kai, who is nearly one, because they would have had to stay in quarantine in a separate hotel.

Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said they tried to help after hearing about mothers not travelling with their children.

He said: "As soon as we heard about this we said let's find solutions."

Tokyo Games spokesman Masa Takaya added: "We were discussing how we could have a good balance between delivering the safest, secure environment and meeting the special requests by the National Olympic Committees.”

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 21: Ona Carbonell at the airport on 21 July 2021, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo By Ana Belen Morant/Europa Press via Getty Images)
Spanish synchronised swimmer Ona Carbonell left her son at home amid a breastfeeding row (Getty)
 ESP - Spain, CARBONELL Ona
Gwangju South Korea 17/07/2019
Artistic Swimming Solo Free Final
18th FINA World Aquatics Championships
Yeomju Gymnasium Photo � Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto/Sipa USA
Ona Carbonell will compete in Tokyo (Getty)

Carbonell had initially been told she could not take Kai with her as athletes’ families could not travel with them, but after seeing other athletes describing their distress at having to choose between the event and their infants she and her coach petitioned the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Two weeks ago, they told her she could bring her son, but only subject to rules set by the Japanese government.

Although they're now allowed to bring their children, they’re not allowed to live in the athletes' village, organisers said, in order to protect other competitors from the risk of infections.

An area in the Olympic village is available for athletes to spend time with and breastfeed their children.

International Olympic Committee's Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi attends a press conference at the Main Press Center MPC of Tokyo 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, July 18, 2021. (Photo by Du Yu/Xinhua via Getty Images)
IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi. (Getty)

Carbonell added: “I had to make a really tough decision ... because the Japanese government’s impositions are not compatible with my athletic performance and being with my family at the same time.

“I hope other athletes can get along with these conditions and still take their kids with them. 

"Personally I can’t accept these conditions. I won’t be ok, I would have to use the breast pump for 20 days hoping that Kai still wants to be breastfed, something which is very important for me.”

Anti-coronavirus restrictions are being enforced in Tokyo as it battles a rise in new cases, and Games participants are subject to stringent measures to minimise the risk of infection and its spread beyond.

So far the Games, which officially opened on Friday, have had 123 disclosed COVID-19 cases, a number of them athletes who will now miss their competitions.

Watch: The remarkable moments when politics upstaged the Games

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