Considering the magnitude — and the resources required for the staging — of the 2020 Summer Games, it’s a wonder the International Olympic Committee continues to refrain from postponing the quadrennial spectacle due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The closest it has come to doing so is the announcement it made over the weekend, with president Thomas Bach acknowledging the possibility and noting that discussions will be held on the matter. The actual decision, he said, will be made anytime in the next four weeks. Meanwhile, all other sporting events of smaller scope have already been moved or scuttled altogether in compliance with community quarantine measures.

That said, the pressure from the IOC to act, and sooner rather than later, is strong. Member countries and participants to the Games are already unilaterally pulling out in the interest of its athletes. Preparations for the competitions take not inconsiderable time that is simply not available given current efforts worldwide to combat the spread of the virus. And while the pressure for the show to go on may be immense, it does not take precedence over the need to uphold public safety. Billions of dollars are at risk should the Olympics be held in abeyance. Conversely, billions of lives are at risk if they are not.

Perhaps the IOC’s recalcitrance is to be expected. After all, it’s a monolith that has rules in place barring it from moving without consultation from its stakeholders. Against an invisible enemy that spreads insidiously, however, it needs to act faster — much, much faster. It cannot tarry, especially in the face of the obvious. As longest-serving IOC official Dick Pound underscored yesterday, there is no choice but to postpone the Games. And yet what does it do in response? It has argued, via spokesman Mark Adams, that “it is the right of every IOC member to interpret the decision of the IOC executive board which was announced.”

Understandably, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee wants the Olympics to go on. Outside of seeing its work come to fruition, it’s also influenced by the seemingly business-as-usual manner the whole of Japan has acted despite being among the first countries hit by the virus. That said, no less than Prime Minister has hinted at the Games’ postponement. “In case this becomes difficult, in order to make the athletes our top priority, we may have no choice but to decide to postpone the Games,” he said before Parliament. His words may be laced with contingencies, but they nonetheless represent a marked departure from his previous position.

At this point, the safe bet, pun wholly intended, is that the Olympics will be postponed a year. By the time 2021 rolls around, the benefits of countermeasures will have been clear, the spread of the virus will have been mitigated, and a vaccine will have been developed. The Games will then be what they should: a celebration of life.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.