Reigning champion and twice tennis gold medallist Andy Murray says an Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic is more relevant than ever, and that the Tokyo Games can provide hope for those who have suffered during the last 18 months.
The 2020 Games, postponed from last year, start in earnest with Friday's Opening Ceremony, and participants are set to compete at empty venues to minimise the risk of infections.
"The Games are the biggest competition in the world and as athletes we train hard for moments like this," Murray said in comments emailed to Reuters.
"Tokyo 2020 in 2021 is unique, falling during the pandemic and we have seen incredible resilience from athletes, fans and all those involved in making this happen.
"In so many ways, right now it's more important than ever that people around the world get to reconnect to the raw emotion of sport, watch incredible performances and celebrate the achievement of athletes coming from around the world."
The 34-year-old Murray has been working his way back to full fitness following hip-resurfacing surgery in 2019.
He is excited at the prospect of defending his Olympics title for a second time having won men's singles gold at London 2012 and again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"Leading Team GB at the Opening Ceremony in Rio was one of the highlights of my career, and winning in 2012 on home ground was an incredible moment," he said.
"Overcoming barriers and difficulties is what defines competing at this level, the ups and the downs.
"For those that are still experiencing the worst of the pandemic and others that have lost so much over the last year, this Games can be a beacon of hope."
Tokyo will be Murray's fourth Games, and the Scot is not giving up hope of adding to his medals, which also include a mixed doubles silver from London.
"My goal is to try and win a medal. Ideally a gold one for my country," he said.
"I know first-hand the impact that playing sport for a career has on your body. I know how difficult and frustrating that journey can be. I know the heartbreak of missing a major tournament and the journey of recovery."
Swiss Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are among a host of big names in tennis who have skipped the Tokyo Games, which is being held under strict health protocols to curb the spread of the virus.
"There are many athletes for whom 2020 should have been a crowning achievement, who will now not even make the rescheduled Games this summer. I truly feel for them," Murray added.
"It's no secret how much the fans support means to me and I have great sympathy for the crowds who won't be able to be there in person."
Olympic and Japanese officials have continued with the Games despite opposition from the citizens in the country to hosting more than 11,000 athletes, staff and media.
Murray said it was difficult to count the benefits of exposure to sport at the highest level.
"It supports mental health. It encourages increased physical activity. It exposes us to other cultures and peoples. It brings us together," he said. "Sport isn't just a fundamental human right – it is one of the most impactful tools to heal and strengthen our society.
"An incredible amount of work has gone into ensuring the safety of everyone involved with the Games. It's going to be amazing to be playing in Tokyo and my own experiences are why I think the Games have never been more relevant."
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