Matildas star Steph Catley admits it feels like a "fantasy" to think the Tokyo Olympics will be starting in less than 200 days amid worsening COVID-19 conditions throughout the world and another harsh set of restrictions in England.
Organisers insist the Olympics will go ahead as scheduled on July 23, although International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound has told the BBC he "can't be certain" because of the latest coronavirus surge in Japan, which has declared a state of emergency.
Steph Catley celebrates scoring a goal in Australia’s Olympic qualifying win over Chinese Taipei in February.Credit:Getty
Catley is desperate to pull on Australian colours again but is finding her hopes of doing so in Tokyo difficult to reconcile with her experience on the ground in locked-down London. Thousands die of the illness every day across the UK.
The Matildas have not assembled since sealing their qualification for Tokyo in March last year and there is no indication that new coach Tony Gustavsson will be able to call his players into camp – let alone schedule a friendly – anytime soon.
"It's something that we all desperately want to happen, but it is hard to consider having that many different countries or people from different countries in the same place [at the Olympics]," Catley said.
"It seems like it would be unthinkable at this stage. As athletes we all want the Olympics so bad but, at the end of the day, it's people's lives. Health and safety comes first.
Steph Catley (right) has only played four WSL games for Arsenal since joining the club last year.Credit:Getty
"It does seem a little bit like a fantasy. I think as well because we've been so distant from the national team. We haven't had camps, we haven't played together for so long.
"Hopefully by that point in the year we're at a stage where we're good to go for the Olympics and we can figure out a way to host them safely. Until then we just cross our fingers."
While Catley has been trying to focus on club duties, those too are being continually disrupted. Arsenal were due to face Aston Villa in the FA Women's Super League this weekend, but that match has been postponed due to a shortage of players.
Much of the Gunners squad is isolating after three players – including Irish winger Katie McCabe – took an unsanctioned holiday to Dubai during the winter break and one of them tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return.
The controversy has split the usually harmonious WSL community. Reports from the English press say many of their Arsenal teammates and club staffers are furious with their conduct, while West Ham captain Gilly Flaherty said those players should apologise for their actions, blaming increased wages and off-field standards for breeding "arrogance" within the women's game.
"There were a few girls who were in Dubai for business or for whatever reason it is … [COVID] is going around the entire league and there's obviously been people that have gone off and visited family and friends and that's their decision in the end," Catley said.
"I wasn't really frustrated. At the moment COVID is everywhere. There's people going to the supermarket, players going to the supermarket, coming back and they've got COVID. I think we had one positive case and that's it for us. As long as the rest of us are healthy and we can get that player back healthy then we're good to go."
Meanwhile, English authorities are facing an ever-worsening fixture backlog and are reportedly considering using a coin toss to decide the next two rounds of the women's FA Cup because the early rounds of the tournament are deemed "non-elite" and therefore can't be played under current COVID restrictions.
"To be honest, nothing surprises me any more about how football's being organised or how the world's being organised at this stage," Catley said.
"If that means the competition can keep running and that's the way to do it, I suppose that's what they have to do. But it does seem pretty unfair."
Catley joined Arsenal last year but has played just four WSL matches so far due to a series of niggling injuries, the latest being a hamstring strain that she is hopeful of overcoming soon.
She is yet to hear from Gustavsson – who officially began his tenure as Matildas coach this month – and has no idea when she might see her international teammates again.
"At this stage we're banking on our Zoom meetings and crossing our fingers that things get better because it's so hard with everyone in different places to get everyone in the same place," she said.
"Especially with Australia – if you're coming back into the country it's difficult, so it's hard to get our staff over to where we are. There's just so many complicated things that have to be solved before we can get together, but we'll make it work at some stage, and I honestly can't wait."
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