Postponement of Olympics — the right decision

Postponement of Olympics — the right decision


Friday, March 27, 2020

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The Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the XXXII Olympiad and commonly known as Tokyo 2020, has officially been postponed until 2021 due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. There are now more than 400,000 reported cases worldwide in nearly every country, and the number is growing by the hour.

The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, Prime Minister of Japan Abe Shinzo, along with other IOC officials, had a conference call on March 24 to discuss the unprecedented pandemic and the future of the 2020 Games.

The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame would stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Olympics and Paralympics have taken place in financial crises, after terrorist atrocities and with governments on the verge of collapse but, in the 124-year modern history of the Olympics, it has never been delayed.

It was cancelled altogether in 1916 (during World War I); also 1940 and 1944 (during World War II) and major 'Cold War' boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles summer Games in 1980 and 1984, respectively — but it has never been delayed.

The decision has looked inevitable for weeks, with athletes unable to train safely, and the calendar of Olympic and Paralympic qualification events decimated amid travel restrictions and lockdowns, a postponement or cancellation emerged as the only viable options.

One can sympathise with Japan, and the IOC for having to face the unenviable task of reorganising a mega-occasion that has already cost at least £10 billion in preparations but, following the postponement on January 22 of Olympic qualifying events in boxing and women's football that were due to be held in Wuhan, China —the centre of the coronavirus outbreak — the writing was on the wall.

It is not a cheap decision to push the most participative event in sports back a full year. The Games bring something unique to every host city, but they also come at a staggering price. Those costs escalate rapidly when finished stadiums are operating but empty, when contracts for functions and logistics must be extended months after they were designed to end.

The implications are significant for Japan. The country will now have to spend more money, commercial contracts will have to be unravelled and the availability of venues revisited. And, the IOC, sports federations, broadcasters, sponsors, and a myriad of other related businesses will have to wait an additional 12 months to reap the financial benefits that the event generates.

Japan was banking on a tourist boom during the Games to breathe life into its economy. As many as two million visitors were expected and, following significant investments in renovations, the hotels were heavily booked. Japan Airlines was expected to launch a low-cost subsidiary, Zipair Tokyo, at a cost of around US$200 million in May 2020, and Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports have already invested heavily to boost capacity. The Zipair launch may still happen but without the originally expected traffic.

For the hosts, this postponement is the least desirable option, but all things considered, this was the best path to take. When a vast amount of humanity is under curfew in their own homes, and 'social distancing' is the order of the day, the idea of a massive assembly of athletes and spectators is rendered senseless.

Athletes throughout the world have had their training, and qualification plans severely disrupted and would have been underprepared for the Games which were slated to begin on 24 July. For most, training regimes needed to be rewritten, and performance peaks had to be reorganised. For some, this means waiting a bit longer for their Olympic debut, and for others, it means delaying retirement by another year.

But the postponement of the Olympics doesn't just mean another year of physical training. It means another year of preparation (psychological as well as physiological), motivation, and focus.

This may have a significant impact on athletes who have invested years building for this midsummer period — some will not be able to peak again next year, some will be injured, and some will be too old.

Japan should have the finances to keep this vast operation going for another 12 months in a way that would have been impossible for the Brazilian Government four years ago and certainly for Greece in 2004.

Tokyo 2020, when it happens, will see the world emerging from its darkest period since World War II. It will be the first global celebration following the novel coronavirus pandemic, and, after months of social distancing, it will be an event to pull nations together.


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