Fennell says Olympics must go on even as world wages war with COVID-19

Fennell says Olympics must go on even as world wages war with COVID-19

Observer writer

Sunday, January 10, 2021

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Former Commonwealth Games president and Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) boss Mike Fennell says that despite all the setbacks and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympic Games that are set for this July in Tokyo, Japan, should go on.

The Games were originally set for last year, but were pushed back a year after the coronavirus brought sports to its knees. Fennell said the showcase event that will see 33 sporting disciplines being contested at the biggest sporting event on the planet should go on.

Speaking at Thursday's virtual monthly meeting of the The Rotary Club of Kingston, Fennell, who was the head of the JOA for over 40 years until he stepped down in 2017, said there were arguments about whether the event is viable for this year.

“The big question that is being asked everywhere is, 'Will the Games actually take place?' and for now, the answer must be a resounding 'yes'.

“Nevertheless, we must be realistic and acknowledge that no one can say for sure what will happen next as there are no experts anywhere in the world on this unique situation and no track record to emulate,” he noted.

The rising cases of coronavirus in Japan has forced the Government to order a state of emergency and to close their borders to all foreigners until February 7, and this has further fuelled calls for the event to be called off, or in some instances, to be pushed back, but Fennell said that was not tenable.

“There are a couple of things that will make it difficult to push it back by a couple months,” he said during the question and answer session after delivering the main address.

“One is, of course, is the weather conditions; two— the preparation of the athletes who prepare for a high-level event like that for a specific period...remember there are 33 different sports; thirdly, the Japanese people have said it has to start on July 23rd or not at all. There are too many imponderables [and] I don't think you can keep pushing back, pushing it back and I think it would be very, very difficult not to start on that date,” Fennell reasoned.

The year 2020, as far as sports were concerned, he said “was a near complete disaster with the cancellation or postponement of numerous events local and internationally”.

“The closure of venues and other sports facilities and numerous athletes and persons employed in the industry left without jobs or income. This has created major problems for all concerned and the major challenge now is when can some form of recovery start and under what conditions.

“All over the world a number of sports, especially the non-contact sports, have restarted under special conditions and these conditions are monitored and modified from time to time very carefully by the respective health authorities,” Fennell said.

“In Jamaica we are struggling to start sports activities whilst strictly observing the protocols and ensuring the safety of participants and we know that sports such as athletics, golf, swimming and tennis have some limited engagements whilst football has been struggling to restart their Premier League,” he said.

It is still a game of wait and see for a few local major sporting events.

“Dates have been announced for Boys' and Girls' Champs, but we still have to wait and see how the protocols and counter-measures will be applied,” Fennell noted.

The fate of the Olympic Games was the main thing internationally, however, Fennell told the meeting, “there still is a high level of uncertainty over this mega-event”, which is the Olympic Games.

The size and the complexity of the Olympic Games “boggles your mind and can be confusing to many” and has a revised budget of US$15.8 billion up from the original US$12.6 billion because of the delay, Fennell explained.

“Athletes are currently preparing intensely although there is some uncertainty in the qualification procedures in some sports and the shortage of warm-up competitions, which are essential for optimum performances,” he said .

“The organising committee in Tokyo has done an excellent job so far and the Government of Japan is fully committed to hosting the Games,” Fennell added.

The retired veteran sports administrator was optimistic in his outlook, saying: “We all hope and pray that the measures will be effective to enable the biggest show on earth to go ahead as planned.”

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