By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
PREPARATIONS of the Philippines for the Tokyo Games will continue albeit set for adjustments after the quadrennial sporting spectacle was officially pushed back by a year this week as the world continues to grapple with combating the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Originally set for July 24 to Aug. 9 this year, the Olympics is now targeted to take place no later than the summer of 2021 as agreed upon in a conference call between International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday.
The agreement was arrived at after carefully considering the cloud of uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, which has infected more than 400,000 people worldwide to date and forced the sporting world to a standstill, coupled with mounting pressure from stakeholders not to push through with the event.
It was a decision that Philippine sports officials support and in favor of, underscoring the safety and health of everyone in sports is primary at this point.
With the postponement, local sports executives said adjustments are due in the country’s Olympic push but the mission of sending as many capable athletes as possible remains.
For Mariano Araneta, Philippine chef de mission to the Tokyo Games and president of the Philippine Football Federation, among those on deck for them on the heels of the Olympic postponement is making a thorough assessment of where the country’s push is at right now.
“With the postponement, we will wait for the NSAs’ (National Sports Associations) direction on how they will prepare their athletes for qualifiers on the case of those that have not qualified yet [and see what still can be done]. For those that have qualified, we will also ask for their new training preparations. Meantime, we ask the athletes to stay safe and healthy,” said Mr. Araneta in a text message.
At the time the 2020 Olympics was postponed, four Filipino athletes had already qualified, namely EJ Obiena (athletics/pole vault), Carlos Yulo (gymnastics), Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno (boxing).
More athletes were expected to join the four from sports like boxing, canoe-kayak, golf, skateboarding, judo, wrestling, archery, cycling, weightlifting, table tennis, athletics, and wrestling as they were in the mix in their respective qualifiers which were also put on hold because of COVID-19.
In the lead-up, confidence was high that 2020 could be the year that the Philippines finally win its first-ever gold medal in the Olympics, owing to having better-prepared athletes and jacked-up support given to them.
While a regretful turn of events, a postponement was far better than having the event cancelled altogether and the Philippines actually could use it in its favor, said Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino.
“It’s better to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics rather than cancelation so as not to lose our chance for our first gold medal — or even more golds. [With the postponement] More Filipinos have a chance to qualify,” said Mr. Tolentino.
“A postponement would mean more time to train for those who have already qualified and for those who are still trying to qualify. A 2021 schedule is ideal enough,” he added.
Budget in the training and preparation of the athletes, too, will have to be addressed, something officials said they are ready to do, with Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez saying “Implications on the budget will remain manageable.”
Filipino athletes, for their part, expressed sadness with the Olympic Games being pushed back but respect the decision and believe it is the right direction to take. They also vow to continue their push.
“God’s time! Road to whenever it will be #tokyo2020 #tokyo2021,” Mr. Obiena wrote on a Facebook post when he heard of news of the Games postponement.
Mr. Obiena, 24, is making his Olympic debut in Tokyo.
The Alliance of Boxing Associations of the Philippines (ABAP) also expressed its readiness to adjust and prepare its athletes for the Olympics, hoping more boxers would join Mr. Marcial and Ms. Magno.