By Neil Leverett
- Tokyo 2020 postponed until 2021 as combat against coronavirus continues
- IOC have 17 months to reschedule as XXXII Olympiad must take place before end of summer next year
- Committee’s hand forced after concerns of athlete preparations arise, as both Canada and Australia pull out of Games
TOKYO, JAPAN – After the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to the continued global battle against coronavirus, what will be the IOC’s chief considerations in rescheduling?
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As the world continues in its’ fight against the coronavirus pandemic, early fears of the impact COVID-19 might have on the 2020 sporting calendar came swiftly to pass. With sport almost the globe over having ground to a halt, Monday evening then saw the decision by the International Olympic Committee to postpone Tokyo 2020 until next year.
With the jewel in the sporting crown for of the year gone, the thought will for the moment turn to the safety of the athletes, fans, spectators and the global community together, to unite, recover and defeat a virus that has placed unprecedented restrictions on world sport, not seen since WWII.
In the long-term however, what are the key considerations the IOC will be pondering in their attempts to the put the Greatest Show on Earth back on?
At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in China during December, the sheer proximity of Tokyo to the source of the developing pandemic had already led many to question the staging of the 2020 Olympics. As events rapidly escalated during the coming three months, the decision to delay the Games became the only course of action.
As the XXXII Olympiad sets on the Land of the Rising Sun for the time being, the priority now will be to set a date when the Games can take place and in an environment and time when it is safe to do so.
That for the moment is entirely uncertain in the current climate, but the IOC will be working from this point on with a deadline of the end of August next year in mind – with the postponement clause stating the Games must take place within 12 months of the original date.
The IOC also has a unique termination clause in the event’s contract, which states the governing body can revoke the staging of a games in the interest of public health and safety – as has come to the surface. Complete cancellation however is something few even now will be contemplating, nor want.
WHO ongoing concerns
As global cases rise above 640,000 as of March 28, there is little sign of COVID-19’s impact lessening across society – despite the spread in some parts of Asia beginning to slow down.
Should the slowdown of coronavirus begin to tell in numbers, the priority will then be to prevent to the disease returning again and that will see continued entry restrictions and control of movement within borders.
From an Olympic point of view, should one area of the globe recover, remaining sectors will still be highly contagious. Australia for example has not yet suffered a major impact, but as the country enters autumn and winter, June is predicted to be the peak of contagion there.
The differing rates of recovery and infection still pose a significant threat to the Games’ rescheduling, and even when the pandemic comes under control the thought for many of travel in the near future could also turn fans off the idea making a Japanese pilgrimage next year.
TV money deals
At a time when not only the health of the global community is threatened, the world economy is also taking an unprecedented hit that millions could struggle to bounce back from.
That would make any quarrels over the multi billions pumped into coverage for the XXXII Olympiad seem trite, however the IOC’s delayed call to postpone Tokyo 2020 will sadly have been driven by money – as so too will the rescheduling of the Games.
In the case of American TV rights of the Olympics, the LATimes noted earlier this week the postponement will have a significant financial impact on NBC Sports with the broadcaster reportedly set to garner in the region of $1.25bn ahead of this summer in advertisement alone.
Having committed $12bn themselves to continue broadcasting the Summer Games until 2032, the multimedia giant will be counting the cost of a delay, but NBC are not alone in their wallets taking a sizeable hit in terms of a lack of forecast profit.
Japan will of course be at the root of said financial uncertainty with an estimated $12.35bn having gone into organising the Games. Though neither the athletic fraternity nor the IOC will even be considering full cancellation at this stage, as documented, the sheer angst in the world at this moment right now – indeed the global time-frame for normal restrictions to be lifted – see that standing as still a slight – if distant – possibility.
As uncertainty had swirled in the past days and weeks, the growing concerns of the vital component of the Games – the athletes themselves – had been aired in growing numbers.
In the Team GB camp in particular, World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson‘s preparations for Tokyo had been jolted violently having been forced to return to the UK from her new training base in Monaco.
With stricter movement guidelines in force across France – before Britain also went into lockdown – the Liverpudlian aired her concerns with the Games at that stage still going ahead.
“The IOC advice “encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympics Games as best as they can”, with the Olympics only four months away, but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed. I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine, which is impossible.”
With the Games now temporarily shelved, there remains the potential for a long road ahead before competitors can again recommence training. From an athletics view alone, COVID-19 will likely wipe out the first half of the IAAF Diamond League season, but the hope is a number of one-off evening meets can yet be staged later in the year.
However, the four-year arc in which many millions of competitors will have trained for is now left in tatters. Even before fans can return to supporting their heroes, it is the athletes who will now be under the biggest pressure to decide when best to resume what they do for a living.
The knock-on effect
That finally leads us on the knock-on effect the rescheduling of Tokyo 2020 brings with it. Next summer alone, the World Athletics Championships are due to be held in Oregon in August, whilst the aquatic equivalent is set for Fukuoka in Japan less than 16 months away.
Cameroon is also home of the African Cup of Nations in June and July, with golf’s Solheim Cup on the calendar for late August. Whilst the priority will be to get the Olympics on in the designated time-frame, there is no easy slot for the Games to eschew their way into.
There is clearly no easy solution to the problems that lay ahead. Whilst a sport-starved world for the moment centres all its’ efforts on quelling the biggest global threat since the 1940’s outbreak of war, there will come a time when competition will again resume.
As the economies of the world then also attempt to make amends, money may become an even bigger factor in making the call of when the Tokyo Olympics may take place. The world are currently residents of dark and uncertain times, and the future of the XXXII Olympiad is no different for the moment at least, shrouded as it is, in a heavy cloud of doubt.
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