It is understandable why officials in Japan are hesitant to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics, which are still — at least sort of officially — scheduled to begin July 24 in Tokyo.
There are billions of dollars at stake. There are years of work and planning that went into this. There are massive logistical issues to consider — this isn’t just copy and paste for a year later (the Olympic Village, for instance, is contracted to become actual housing by fall).
Even if 2021 can happen, it will require the Games to be different, likely smaller and less grandiose.
It’s a complete nightmare. The International Olympic Committee has billions to lose in profit. The Japanese have billions more to lose in construction and costs.
That said, the writing is on the wall. Canada announced Sunday it isn’t going. Australia followed. The two biggest sport federations in the United States — USA Swimming and USA Track & Field — are recommending postponement. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee is trying to buy time before making the inevitable announcement.
And then on Monday, IOC official Dick Pound, a Canadian, essentially leaked the news.
“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound told USA Today. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know. … It will come in stages. We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”
Once this becomes official, it will be a massive disappointment to the athletes who have geared years of hard work to this very date. It will also be a massive relief. At least there will be certainty.
Part of the need for postponement is the safety of everyone this summer in Japan. Even if outbreaks of the coronavirus are contained at that time in Japan, inviting the entire world to one packed city doesn’t sound like a bright idea.
No vaccine will be ready by then. So little about the virus is currently understood. Anyone making the rosy prediction that the Games could go on would be taking an enormous risk. Maybe. Maybe not. And that maybe not could be horrific.
Mostly though it is unfair to the competitors. For fans, the Olympics begin when the torch gets lit. Same, in many ways, for the IOC. That’s when they can start cashing in on this event.
The athletes don’t just magically appear though. It takes years of training and qualifying, and the final weeks and months are the most important.
Right now that is impossible for many. There aren’t many pools open to swim in — even decorated American Katie Ledecky can’t find a proper place to train. Tracks are closed. Gyms are closed. Basketball leagues are suspended.
We all want to see the best of the best compete, but what if they aren’t at their best. It can be unfair, dangerous and way too challenging in the interim.
That’s why Canada and Australia called it early. That’s why Dick Pound is leaking out news that even the IOC and the Japanese are conceding this can’t move on.
The world could have used the Summer Olympics to go off as planned — this year as much as any. Yet no matter how good the intentions, that’s proved impossible in these unprecedented times.
Reluctance is apparently facing reality … 2021, in one form or the other, it should be.
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