Earlier in March, the International Olympic Committee urged athletes to continue training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics slated to begin this summer, as no final decisions were made at that time regarding a date change for the Olympic Games. In a statement released to the public, the IOC announced that a task force had been created in mid-February, with representatives from the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Japanese government, the city of Tokyo and the World Health Organization. The IOC implored that they would take any necessary actions to follow the guidelines and advice of WHO. According to the official website of the Olympic Games, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo felt a moral obligation to do all that he could to hold the games, “as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus, and I gained support for that from the G-7 leaders.” Prime Minister Shinzo, as well as the IOC faced pushback from athletes who implored that the games were not safe to be held during a time such as this. As of March 17, just 57 percent of athletes had qualified for the Games, leaving just under half of the spots to be decided later on in qualification events. Determining how to hold such events would be nearly impossible, in accordance with social gathering suggestions which limit large congregations, and they would pose as threats to those involved. The health and wellbeing of people ultimately trumped Shinzo’s goals for commencement, stemming from hopefulness, and on March 24 the committee came to an agreement that it was in the best interest of everyone involved with the Olympic organization to postpone the games until July 23, 2021 and per usual the Paralympics will follow shortly after, on Aug. 24.
What does this say for the athletes, many of whom have trained their entire lives to compete in the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo? Much like the rest of the world, they must now face obstacles that no one could have anticipated months ago, and the abnormal must become the new normal. There is no doubt that the one year deferral will create difficult hurdles for participating athletes to overcome. In the additional 365 days or so, athletes could face career-ending injuries, postponed retirement plans or the drawbacks of an aging body, among other obstacles. In no way are these circumstances ideal; however, we are currently living in a world where ideality does not exist. While all athletes can agree that this unprecedented time is a difficult one, some are trying to look at it in a positive light. Jenna O’Hea, captain of the Australia women’s basketball team, spoke of the situation to ESPN. She said, “everyone is going through the same thing. Sometimes when you’re injured, you’re very alone … with this, we’re all alone together. So we have our workouts, and I know everyone is in the same boat. It makes it easier knowing everyone is in it together.” Perhaps this unspoken unity is a silver lining that will serve as the shining light to get athletes and fans through this difficult time.
The IOC’s principles have held true throughout this difficult decision making process; “to protect the health of everyone involved and to support the containment of the virus,” and “to safeguard the interests of the athletes and of Olympic sport.” The delay was inevitable, as it was only a matter of time before the IOC would follow behind other international sports leagues who practiced caution in suspending their seasons. What sports fans need to know is that it is okay to miss sports and it is okay to be upset; however, it is not okay to place expectations on athletes, and officials who make decisions for those athletes, to disregard their health for the sake of entertainment.