Four-time Olympic ice hockey champion Hayley Wickenheiser is spearheading a new initiative to raise and distribute PPE supplies to emergency medical staff across Canada ©Getty Images

Four-time Olympic ice hockey gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser has spoken out over how she was criticised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after she called the governing body "irresponsible" last month over its handling of the process to postpone Tokyo 2020.

Wickenheiser, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission, told insidethegames about the background to her criticism on March 17 of the IOC’s determination to hold the Tokyo 2020 Games this summer despite the growing coronavirus crisis.

She said she had been provoked by the increasing numbers of severe COVID-19 cases she was seeing while working in medical emergency rooms in Toronto as part of her training.

Wickenheiser added that she had been chastised immediately by the IOC for her comments - which came a week before the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee announced that the Games would be postponed to the summer of 2021.

"I got a message about 24 hours later which stated ‘what a pity’ it was that I spoke out without asking the IOC first," she said.

"That’s how it often works. 

"They like to try to contain the message and have one message, but I don’t think a democratically elected institution like the IOC should be censoring its members, especially in times like this."

Commenting on the new arrangements for the Tokyo 2020 Games, Wickenheiser added: "Can we predict the Games can happen in a year if there’s another major outbreak? 

"We can’t. But I do think it’s a reasonable timeframe, given history, to be able to plan and move forward.

“So there’s not much more I think the IOC could do.”

Hayley Wickenheiser says she does not think the International Olympic Committee should be censoring its members for their comments in relation to the coronavirus pandemic ©Getty Images
Hayley Wickenheiser says she does not think the International Olympic Committee should be censoring its members for their comments in relation to the coronavirus pandemic ©Getty Images

The 41-year-old Canadian legend, who is in her final year at the University of Calgary medical school, is currently spearheading an appeal to collect and transport personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline emergency medical workers across Canada.

Wickenheiser is being strongly supported in her efforts by her friend Ryan Reynolds, the Canadian-American film actor and producer.

Working in partnership with a group of volunteers under the banner of Conquer COVID-19, and with input from numerous local and national businesses, Wickenheiser and Reynolds have set up a regular opportunity for the public to donate equipment, or cash, in a safe and socially-distanced location in Toronto.

The initiative got off to a strong start yesterday, and, according to Wickenheiser, it will continue to run every Saturday in the same spot for as long as supplies are needed.

Among those dropping by was the Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, who was full of praise for the efforts of the volunteers and the response of the public.

Speaking ahead of the event, Wickenheiser told insidethegames: “Saturday is our first PPE drive where people will drive up in their cars and drop the items that they have.

"And we - that’s a group of medical students and volunteers - will begin going through the spreadsheet of asks that have come off the website.

"We have the help of companies like Volvo that are going to take drivers and actually go and drop the stuff off at various locations throughout Ontario and Quebec where they are needed the most here in Canada.

"Right now I think we are definitely up to about 200,000 items. By the weekend I wouldn’t be surprised if it was getting into the millions.

"Some people have a lot to give, and some people don’t. So we’ve got 200,000 masks coming up from Denver.

"And we had a response of one dollar from a young student in India.

"We’ve had 700 emails in just 24 hours from folks who have legitimate things they want to donate.

"COVID has really blown up here, but it’s been a great source of social good in Canada."

For the full interview, go to the Big Read.