What's the IOC waiting for?
The IOC remains in denial that the coronavirus pandemic will force a decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to start on July 24. IOC president Thomas Bach has admitted that “different scenarios” are now being considered in dealing with the virus but insists that since the Olympics are still over four months away, there is no urgency for an immediate decision on whether or not to postpone the staging of the Summer Games.
From one standpoint, Bach’s position of hope, if not strength, is a big morale lift. It means he’s not giving in to the virus, that he’s fighting it out. He knows that most athletes dream of performing in the Olympics only once in a lifetime and taking that dream away is painful. He knows that a one or two-year postponement can shatter that dream forever. Athletes who are in the twilight of their careers may not be able to extend their competitive form for another one or two years.
From another standpoint, Bach is just not being realistic. The outbreak of the coronavirus is global and isn’t sparing Tokyo. Imagine gathering an estimated 11,000 athletes from all over the world to compete in 339 events in 33 sports. Ordering a 14-day quarantine on certain athletes would be senseless. Will athletes from coronavirus-ravaged countries be banned from participating? Even assuming the coronavirus is contained within the next few weeks, mopping up operations will take some more months to make sure it isn’t revived.
The IOC has issued a statement encouraging “all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympics as best as they can.” The statement said, “with more than four months to go before the Games, there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage and any speculation at this moment, would be counter-productive.” The statement appears to smack of insensitivity. Is the IOC instructing athletes to continue training in the gym? What if the athletes are on lockdown?
Olympic qualifying competitions have screeched to a halt. In boxing, the qualifiers for Europe and the Americas have been suspended. The world qualifiers in Paris have been postponed from May 13-20 to June but no new dates have been announced. That’s cutting it too close to the Olympics assuming a start of July 26. And what about the Europe and Americas qualifiers? Will hopefuls continue to train for those qualifiers or will they stay home? The Europe qualifiers are supposed to be held at the Copper Box Arena in London with 316 boxers from 43 countries listed as participants. Will the Italian boxers be prohibited from competing? Will London beg off from hosting?
It’s the same uncertain situation with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament for 3x3 basketball. The Philippines is aspiring to play in the 3x3 debut in Tokyo but the 20-team OQT in India for three Olympic slots has been postponed with no new staging date. How can teams practice without a timetable to focus on? There’s a lockdown in the Philippines so does the IOC expect Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, Mo Tautuaa and C. J. Perez to defy the government directive and report to the gym for practice?
Japan Olympic Committee deputy chief and Japan Football Association president Kozo Tashima was recently in Belfast to attend an International Football Association Board meeting, in Amsterdam for a UEFA conference and in the US to lobby for Japan’s bid to host the 2023 World Cup for women. During the UEFA conference, Tashima met with Swiss and Serbian football officials who have tested positive for the virus. Now, Tashima himself has tested positive.
The Olympic torch relay will begin on Thursday starting in Fukushima and stops are scheduled all over Japan in a 121-day journey before ending in Tokyo. Arrival and departure ceremonies in the torch relay will be closed to the public and torch-bearers will be screened thoroughly. So what’s the point of doing the relay when the spirit of Olympism isn’t conveyed to the public? When the torch arrived on a special charter flight into Matsushima Air Base from Athens, 200 children who were supposed to welcome the flame were turned away for safety reasons.
Despite the alarming statistics of coronavirus infections and fatalities, Bach said it would be “premature” to suspend the Olympics at this point. “For us, (postponement) would not be responsible now,” he said. “We are contrary to many other sports organizations or professional leagues in that we are 4 1/2 months away from the Games. What makes this crisis so unique and so difficult to overcome is the uncertainty.”
It’s unfair for the IOC to keep athletes, coaches and sports officials in suspense and in limbo. Even if the Olympics are 4 1/2 months away, the writing on the wall is staring at everyone, including Bach, in the face. Is the IOC trying to preserve the billions that have been invested in the Olympics by hoping against hope? Shouldn’t the IOC just bite the bullet now and advise athletes to stay home, stay safe and do their share in preventing the spread of the virus? This isn’t about preserving billions of dollars, this is about preserving lives.