Will the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan push through on its original scheduled date or not? That is the question the global sporting community is waiting to be answered amid the ongoing and serious concern over the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Set to happen from July 24 to Aug. 9 in Tokyo, the staging of the Games is in danger of being deferred to a later date as clamor for its postponement continues to grow with cases of the contagious disease rising in number by the day in different parts of the world.
Different sports organizations have asked the International Olympic Committee to have the quadrennial event pushed back by a year, or two, to allow the entire world to concentrate on the battle against COVID-19 and heal from the damage it has caused after.
The Olympic committees of Canada and Australia have made it known that they will not be sending athletes to the Games because of COVID-19 concerns and urged the IOC to postpone the event while sports groups from the United States, France, Slovenia, Norway and United Kingdom, among others, as well as individual athletes, past and present, are backing deferment.
The IOC, for its part, insists that as this point in time announcing a postponement four months away is still “premature” and that the scheduled staging of the Games is still a go.
It, however, made a partial U-turn on its stand early this week, saying that postponement is one of the scenarios it is now looking at.
The IOC said detailed discussions on how it would go about things moving forward would be done in the next four weeks with a firm decision on the fate of the Tokyo Games expected to be announced then.
As things stand with the pace of progress being made in the battle against COVID-19, I think it is highly likely that the IOC will eventually move for the postponement of the Tokyo Games.
And it is a decision that is going to be the right one to take, not only for the safety of athletes, officials, fans and other stakeholders but also to preserve the integrity of the Olympics.
Pullout by countries from the event has started and more should be expected to come in the next days.
Qualifying events for the Games are currently put on hold, opening the possibility of having many athletes qualify in different disciplines “by default.” And during the Olympics proper, even if there are enough athletes competing they may not be able to compete at a high level that they want to with training and preparation in the lead-up greatly hampered by the quarantine measures in effect globally because COVID-19.
I know these are extraordinary times which call over extraordinary measures but at the end of the day if we will not have a “complete” Olympics, as Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself said, and competition far from what we know the Games are known for, might as well postpone especially when such is possible.
However, let me say as well that I understand the current position of the IOC and Japan organizing committee as they hold off decision on a deferment at this point.
Planning and preparing for the Olympics take years to do and entail a lot of factors to consider like the venues, broadcast, accommodation, security and availability of personnel, among others, and cancelling late in the game is not an easy decision to make.
Moving to postpone the Games is one thing and what comes next it is another thing.
The IOC has to have a Plan B, or even C and D, on how it intends to move on in an event of a deferment — when is the best possible date to have it, how to honor its various commitments in light of it, adjusted qualifying platforms for the athletes, maintenance of venues (Who pays for that?) and so on.
With that said, the next four weeks will be crucial for the organizers of the Tokyo Games. Some big and tough decisions have to be made and hopefully they will be guided properly and come up with the appropriate resolution to the situation.
Citius, Altius, Fortius
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld Senior reporter covering the Sports beat.