Tokyo Olympic Games In July 2021 Or Never, Says IOC Member Dick Pound Urging Athlete Patience

Tokyo 2020 is in 2021 or never, says Dick Pound, IOC member - Photos Courtesy: Tokyo 2020; inset - US Mission Canada

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will either unfold for two weeks from July 23, 2021 or will be cancelled altogether, organisers have told the International Olympic Committee.

Dick Pound, the 1962 Commonwealth 100m freestyle champion for Canada and a vice-president of the IOC, revealed in an interview with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) that Japan has indicated that it cannot sustain a further postponement if the coronavirus pandemic has not been brought under sufficient control by summer next year.

According to Pound: “The Japanese have said we can keep the ball up in the air for a year, but not longer than a year. We really have to hope that we get this act together in time for 2021.”

The Games were postponed due to the spread of the coronavirus and related COVID-19 deaths on March 24 after Canada declared that it would not be sending a team to the Games in Tokyo if they went ahead in July this year. Australia indicated the same, while athletes, coaches and some domestic federations joined the plea for postponements as the virus started to bite hard outside of China, the origin of the pandemic.

Pound indicated that Japanese organisers and the country’s Government had seen the value in and wider good of investing in a one-year postponement. He said:

“The Japanese Olympic Committee says, ‘It’s important to us and, yes, we think we can do that.’ Then by all means, yes, let’s give the kids a chance, let’s give the world a chance to weather this storm. Come back and we can emerge from an existential threat to humanity with this huge gathering of the youth of the world.”

With worldwide lockdowns ion place and enforcement of strict physical-distancing guidelines being rolled out, the moment when 11,000 athletes congregate in one place alongside many thousands of volunteers, media, fans and tourists is hard too imagine right now.

As countries contemplate pandemic-exit strategies, there are calls in Australia for elite swimmers to be allowed to return to training pools by May so that they have time to prepare for a July 2021 Olympics.

On the other hand, further restrictions continue to be placed on sport in many countries, Germany last week and The Netherlands today among countries that have banned any sport, among other mass gatherings, from taking place until September.

The European Swimming League will meet next week – having postponed a Zoom session due to have taken place yesterday – to discuss whether the continental aquatics championships are likely to be able to go ahead in Budapest come September, given the likelihood that many swimmers will not be able to return to full training for many weeks, if not months, in many of LEN’s 52 member states.

FINA is yet to decide where to place the postponed 2021 World Championships due to have taken place in July next year before the rescheduled Olympics took over the dates.

Depending on the successful development of a vaccine and/or remedies against the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the Games may yet go ahead without spectators but Pound believes a Games is only a Games if there the worldwide Olympic community is brought together. The 78-year-old told CBC:

“It’s a really intricate tapestry when you look at all the arrangements. But that said, it’s a huge benefit having an event that’s not just a series of world championships brought together in a television studio. It’s the people reacting with people that really matters.”

At. time of uncertainty, Pound called on athletes, fans and all others to be patient, his message to athletes:

“Hang in there. We’re trying to preserve that experience for you. It’s postponed a little but you’re resilient. If you’re an athlete, you learn a lot more from your setbacks than you do from your wins. Everybody in the world hopes that this event can be put back together next year and the world will have a chance to see you in action. You’ll have a chance to do your best and everybody will feel good about the outcome.”

One of the consequences of the economic downturn now setting in and about to be with us for many months and even years as a result of a pandemic far from over, is a reassessment of the cost (financial – Pound did not mention the realms massive carbon footprint) of sport.

For organisations such as FINA, there’s reform ahead. Said the Canadian:

“I think what we’re likely to find, somewhat to our horror, is that many of the international sports federations are so dependent on their share of Olympic revenues that they really can’t carry on at the level they’re doing now, or would like to do, without making some changes.”

Suggestions for reform include making Athens/Olympia the permanent home of the Games once more but Pound believes that is unlikely to happen. He cited “universality” but the thing he did not mention is likely to be an even bigger reason for thinking he might be right: the multi-billion-dollar Olympic industry complete with a bidding process and a realm of consultants and others making fortunes off the back of achievements of athletes paid rather less well. Said Pound:

“It’s completely impractical and the Games are so universal now that they’re not Greece’s Games – they belong to the world. And it’s very hard to say to all of the rest of the world, ‘Sorry, you’re just out of luck. Don’t even think about applying to be host.'”

On the other hand, there are those who believe a permanent home for the Games would cut out the potential for corruption, proven and alleged, of the kind that has long dogged Olympic bidding processes.


1 comment

  1. avatar

    It’s not just about other countries not being able to host if it becomes the “Greek Games” but the games would always be in the same timezone dishing out a real raw deal to those countries where most of the important events happen when everyone is sleeping. This could very well kill interest in the Olympics in those countries over time.

    At the very least if they plan to not have new hosts all the time they should have it cycle through a few hosts across timezones (Europe/Africa, Asia/Oceania, North/South America).