You need only walk into your local supermarket and stand before the cleared out shelves of toilet paper and hand sanitiser to realise that fears of the coronavirus becoming a pandemic are mounting. As the virus continues to spread at alarming speed around the world. It’s all rather alarming, but as music festivals, performances, and fashion shows around the world have been forced into cancellation, there is no doubt as to whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go ahead.
With just five months to go before the biggest international sporting event gets under way, the International Olympic Committee and Japan’s Olympic team are rallying to find a solution to what is proving to be a major debacle. Last week, Dick Pound told the Associated Press that the most plausible outcome for the Olympics would be cancellation, saying: “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television season. You can’t just say, ‘We’ll do it in October.’”
But if recent reports from Reuters are to be believed, it seems Japan’s Olympic minister has differing ideas. According to Tokyo’s Olympic 2020 contract, they might just be allowed to postpone the Games until the end of the year should they feel coronavirus might disrupt the event. Seiko Hashimoto told the publication, “The contract calls for the Games to be held within 2020. That could be interpreted as allowing a postponement.”
With a budget of 1.35 trillion yen (approximately $13 billion USD), there’s no denying that a cancellation of the Olympics would be costly, especially to an economy that’s already been impacted by the coronavirus. But another major cost will be to the athletes participating in the Games as their training schedules are thrown completely out of whack.
Across a number of sports, cancellations have forced athletes to re-think their Olympic training plans, which can have a significant impact on their results.
The Tokyo Marathon, which usually draws 20,000 participants to the street, limited the field of entrants to just a few hundred elite runners, telling the thousands of others registered for the event to stay home. Spectators were also urged to stay inside, with runners taking to empty streets for what used to be one of the biggest events in the running calendar. Meanwhile, the world indoor track and field championships which were scheduled to take place in China during March, have been postponed by a year, while sporting codes like football, rugby and tennis have seen a number of events cancelled due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
As far as training is concerned, postponing the Games will be detrimental to the preparation of athletes. Professionals have to contend with getting in the best physical fitness of their life for the Olympics, something that is achieved by training consistently but also smartly. Athletes are aware of the date of competition, and often work backward to factor in a peak training phase, followed by tapering. They have to stay at this peak fitness level without suffering injury or getting sick – factors that are incredibly difficult given the intensity of their training.
With this in mind, pushing the Olympics back will see athletes have to reconsider their training regime. Consequently, the International Olympic Committee will need to make a decision within the next few months so as to best prepare athletes for any change in competition date. According to reports, a decision will need to be reached by May.
But as Sandy Hollway, the former chief executive of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games ahead of the 2000 event said in an interview with the ABC, “I don’t think either the Games organisers in Tokyo or anybody in the Olympic movement, from the IOC through the national sporting federations down to the National Olympic Committees, including the Australian Olympic Committee, would have anything other than the wellbeing of the athletes forefront in their minds.”
One can only hope that the coronavirus is contained by then, and that the Olympics goes ahead in all its resplendent glory. And while the safety of athletes is a primary concern, you can’t help but think how one moves forward should their dreams of competing at the Olympics be quashed due to the spread of coronavirus. It would be devastating to say the least. But you would hope the resilience intrinsic to most athletes would see them recover.