Local sports officials support Olympic delay

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Olympic rings monument at Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba, Tokyo. On Tuesday the IOC announced that the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics Games would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. -- YUKIHITO TAGUCHI-USA TODAY SPORTS

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

ORGANIZERS of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year on Tuesday moved for the postponement of the Games to 2021 over ongoing concerns on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

It was a decision that Philippine sports officials support, seeing it as for the greater good of many in light of the very serious health crisis gripping the world.

In a conference call between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, it was agreed upon to delay the Tokyo Games for at least a year.

The 2020 Olympics was originally set to take place from July 24 to Aug. 9 and is now targeted to be staged no later in the summer of 2021.

It was the first time in the Olympics’ 124-year history that it had been postponed, though it was cancelled outright several times during the two 20th-century World Wars.

Here in the Philippines, local sports officials said they fully support the decision to have the Olympic Games delayed as the battle against COVID-19 rages on.

“I favor a postponement because the health and safety of everyone in sports — both in the Philippines and all over the world — is paramount in this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino.

“A 2021 schedule is ideal enough,” he added, underscoring that hopefully by that time COVID-19 has been contained just as the delay would afford Filipino athletes added time to train and prepare in vying a spot in their respective Olympic events.

Mr. Tolentino’s views were shared by Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William Ramirez, who reiterated safety and health are primary in these times.

“I have always expressed that I favor its (Olympics) postponement, given the way this crisis seem to be taking. As I have mentioned before, safety and health of everyone is a top priority,” said Mr. Ramirez.

The PSC chairman said they are going to be active in giving the athletes what they need in this rough time and expressed readiness to address implications on the preparation budget brought about by the delay in the staging of the Olympics.

“In the meantime, we have mobilized our Sports Psychology unit to actively check on our athletes and conduct guidance counselling (online or by phone for now) for our athletes who might need their support given the challenges which resulted from these developments. Implications on the budget will remain manageable,” Mr. Ramirez said.

Messrs. Tolentino and Ramirez said preparations will continue as the situation permits and asked all athletes, coaches, officials and stakeholders to stay safe and observe government and Health Department protocols.

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 quadrennial sporting event, owing to having better-prepared athletes and jacked-up support given to them.

In nearly a century of competing in the Olympics, the Philippines has produced 10 medals to date — three silver and seven bronze.

Boxers Anthony Villanueva (1964) and Mansueto Velasco (1996), and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz (2016) are the country’s silver medallists while bronze came from swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso (1928 and 1932), high jumper Simeon Toribio (1932), runner Miguel White (1936), and boxers Jose Villanueva (1964), Leopoldo Serantes (1988) and Roel Velasco (1992).

Meanwhile, postponement of the Tokyo Games is a massive logistical headache for host Japan, which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment. But a poll showed about 70% of the Japanese agree with a delay.

Pressure on the IOC to postpone had been accelerating in recent days, with Canada and Australia even going as far as saying they would not participate if the Games pushed through as scheduled in July. — with Reuters