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Olympian swimmer “disappointed” she had to leave breastfeeding son at home


By Jennifer McShane
22nd Jul 2021
Olympian swimmer “disappointed” she had to leave breastfeeding son at home

Spanish synchronised swimmer Ona Carbonell has said she is disappointed and disillusioned that she cannot take her breastfeeding son with her to the Olympics, because her family would be subject to such drastic restrictions in Japan.

Carbonell, competing in her third Games, said in an Instagram video that she had been made to choose between her family and her Olympic goal.

“A few weeks ago, some female athletes started posting about this on social media,” she said in Spanish in the video as she breastfed her son. “The subject was to choose between family and breastfeeding or to participate in the Olympic Games.”

“We were told this was not compatible,” she said. At the end of June, the Tokyo organising committee loosened a restriction on bringing infants who are nursing to the Games. But the conditions imposed still made it difficult for mothers, Carbonell said, because children would have to stay in a hotel outside of the Olympic confines and under strict quarantine.

As she explained in her video, this has meant she cannot bring her son with her.

“For me to go and breastfeed Kai whenever he needs it during the day I would have to leave the Olympic villa, the team’s bubble, and go to the hotel, risking my team’s health.”

“Despite the appearance of some news suggesting the possibility that we athletes could travel to the Tokyo Olympic Games accompanied by our infants or young children, we have been informed by the organising entities of some extremely drastic measures that make this option impossible for me,” she said.

“After receiving countless expressions of support and encouragement to go to Tokyo with Kai, I wanted to express my disappointment and disillusionment that I will finally have to travel without him.”

“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.”

Her comments echo the dilemma of so many working mothers who are forced via circumstance to between excelling in their career and committing to their family.

Tokyo 2020 organisers said in a statement they did not comment on individual cases but were committed to doing everything possible to allow athletes with nursing children to compete, however, their restrictions still mean Carbonell is unable to bring her son.

“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.”

“Our only possibility is to wait for the end of this pandemic so that normality returns, and with it the necessary measures so that the reconciliation of motherhood and elite sport is no longer something extraordinary and practically impossible to carry out,” she added.

It’s a pointed situation that shines an unfortunate spotlight on the aspect of the games that sees working mothers – as usual – missing out and being forced to make extremely tough choices.