Olympic Popes Finish Last In Tokyo 2020 Race As Others Waft The White Smoke Of Postponement

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Commentary

Olympic Popes and Pontificates will gather round a digital, social-distanced table for the International Olympic Committee Executive Board meeting today knowing that their mind has been made up by others and a rare event in their experience of life in an autonomous bubble: there’s something out there bigger than them.

Olympic bosses have been caught on the back foot once more, while FINA remains silent at the very moment they should be speaking up and out on behalf of athletes and reflecting the polls emerging from National Olympic Committee athlete commissions and domestic sports federations alike.

On the cusp of a decision to postpone Tokyo 2020, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organisers will surely peer through their five rings and know that athletes and coaches and other major stakeholders have already moved on and start to get their head round ‘what next?’

Will it be 2021, or 2022. One suggestion emerging is March-April 2021 a year from now and right in the midst of Japan’s splendid cherry-blossom season. Olympic bosses could learn much from the wisdom of trees.

If Australia’s travel ban, with specific mention of it applying to Olympic athletes tipped the first domino over, then Canada’s announcement Sunday that it would not be sending athletes to a July Games triggered a flood of similar announcements and polls showing that athletes around the world do not want the Games to go on this July at a time of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Solidarity, recovery and finding “time and space”, as Jacco Verhaeren put it, in life to a time to reassess, let wounded psychologies and mental states heal, reset goals and find perspective along the way of all those challenges have been part of the lexicon of athletes and others for months now.

Olympic bosses perhaps only caught up when the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committee (USOPC) added voice to the growing chorus calling for  postponement. – albeit beyond a blast of cannons from big Olympic voices in the United States.

The USOPC dragged its heels. Like the IOC it was wedded to its language all the way to blocks before the athletes in the race showed them the way forward.

A survey of about 4,000 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls in the United States did the talking: 93 per cent in favour of postponement. Job done. Said USOPC board chair Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland in a joint statement on Monday night:

“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner. To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”

Similar surveys in Germany, New Zealand, Portugal, Australia, Britain and Canada came to the same conclusions.

And Olympic bosses and the likes of FINA should have seen it coming instead of standing on the tracks of a runaway train blinking in the light even as metal on metal sent sparks flying high into the night of an Olympic season that ended many weeks ago.

Yes, of course these are big decisions, with much money and many players to consider – but this is the moment the IOC must rip off the blinkers and cut to the chase: there’s a coronavirus patient on the trolley gasping for air. deal with it, the must wait to be sorted. The Olympic ventilator this day is “postponement”, the clarity athletes need right now, not a month from now.

At the weekend, the IOC set out its stall as if some kind of vendor of toy cars, circa 1880, right next to the store with the latest avatar computer games and virtual reality gadgets going for a knockdown, corn-season bargain-basement price. The decision having already effectively been taken on Tokyo 2020 by many of its major stakeholders, the IOC thought it wise to take another four weeks to deliberate.

That plan will end this afternoon if Olympic bosses have any wisdom left in them. Athletes need clarity, a message that’s been flowing fast and furious since the chair of the British Olympic Association took about 15 minutes on Sunday to tell the IOC to step on the gas – and pronto! It would not be “endangering the health and wellbeing of athletes”.

Australia’s travel ban came with a note from sports bosses telling its athletes to prepare for Tokyo 2021. Then came the closure of all its high performance centres, Canada’s bomb dropped in the midst.

“This is not solely about athlete health – it is about public health,” Team Canada said in its statement. “With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games.”

The COVID-19 Numbers & What Next

They’ve doubled since last week: past 350,000 infections and rising fast; 15,000 deaths and rising fast. The peak is yet to come in Europe and the United States. By the time the curve turns, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it expects the figures to be much higher still.

Life is on hold. The Olympics must wait. Training is off the agenda for many athletes, their focus on personal,. family and community wellbeing. And fairness too: athletes have been keen to pin solidarity with fellow competitors to the mast, while Cameron van Der Burgh embraced that spirit when sending out a warning to the world of athletes after two weeks of battling COVID-19.

“This is no joke”, he wrote. Indeed not. No moment for “Games-must-go-on” mentality either.

The IOC, FINA and other leaders need to have noticed much sooner the bigger picture, the impact of that on many players in the sports realm, the stress and anxiety and game-changing moments that were unfolding even as Popes pontificated about all being on track for July 24 like the father of the bride who refuses to hear the news: the groom just dropped dead.

Holding an Olympic Games in the midst of pandemic season would be to risk the health and safety of vast numbers of people. That appears to have escaped the notice of decision-makers who today meet with their minds made up for them. They have other lessons to learn from all those, including the absolute lack of any need to spend nearly so much on first and business-class fares dashing all over the world to meetings when Skype and Zoom will do nicely.

In the race to get to a Tokyo 2020 decision, Olympic bosses got left on the line. Not for the first time. No matter. It’s not too late for the IOC and others to catch up: today, as the  highest-paid executive volunteers in the world gather at the dawn of their digital decision-making, they must  sent white smoke up the chimney, confirm postponement and then immediately press ahead swiftly in the coming four weeks with consultation of all major stakeholders, athletes, coaches, Tokyo 2020 Organisers and the Japanese Government among them, of course.

The athletes and many others need to know: when should we prepare for. Take your marks…

  • All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, nor its staff.

3 comments

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    ttt

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    • avatar
      Jennifer Parks

      Bravo, finally, a decision! To protect the athletes, hopefully , allowing them to train. Brava to all the athletes, who spoke up, when organizations appeared to be frozen.

  2. avatar
    ttt

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