After weeks of speculation, suspicion and criticism, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), along with the Japanese Olympic committee and government, announced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to ‘no later than June 2021’. This is the first time in the Olympics' 124-year modern history that the Games have been moved or postponed. The only time the Games were cancelled was in 1940 and ‘44 during the Second World War.
While the overall reaction, amongst athletes more than anyone else, was that of relief, there is also a sense that the postponement will wreak on a preplanned sports calendar. International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which had scheduled its World Championships at a time that could potentially create a clash with the Games, were among the first to assuage fears with a statement that they would look to restructure accordingly.
“It is what athletes want and we believe this decision will give all athletes, technical officials and volunteers some respite and certainty in these unprecedented and uncertain times,” the statement said. Furthermore the statement addressed the Oregon World Championships clash directly, saying, “World Athletics stands ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date for the Olympic Games in 2021 and has already been in discussion with the Organising Committee of the World Athletics Championships Oregon 21 regarding the possibility of moving the dates of this highly popular worldwide event.”
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Athletics, though, isn’t the sport whose calendar is most threatened by the rescheduling. FINA’s World Swimming Championships were scheduled to be held in July 2021 in Fukuoka, Japan, and this postponement — as necessary as it is — creates a major headache for the global body. "We will now work closely with the host organising committee of the 2021 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, with the Japan Swimming Federation and with the Japanese public authorities, in order to determine flexibility around the dates of the competition, if necessary and in agreement with the IOC,” its statement said.
The President of the International Paralympic committee also commended the decision tweeting out support. “Postponing the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a result of the global COVID-19 outbreak is absolutely the right thing to do,” he tweeted. “The health and well-being of human life must always be our number one priority and staging a sporting event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible.”
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Furthermore, despite the postponement, the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will continue to be called the “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020” even when they are held next year. The IOC has also said that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan “as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times”.
As global bodies jostle to restructure their calendars and create space for the Olympics next year, athletes across the globe have collectively expressed relief at the decision. Canadian athletes — who had till a few days back faced the tag of being part of two countries that would abstain from participating at Tokyo 2020 — were among those who greeted the news with relief. Erica Wiebe, the defending champion in the 75kg women’s wrestling, had over the past few days advocated a postponement and voiced her support for Canada’s pullout. She admitted to being heartbroken at losing the opportunity to defend her title, she acknowledged that ‘this is way bigger than me, and sport. She had also put a rallying call to the IOC asking them to ‘choose this opportunity to stand on the right side of history and put humanity first.’
And when the decision was announced, unsurprisingly she expressed her gratitude towards it. “Utter relief. Excitement. Uncertainty. We're in unprecedented times,” she tweeted. “We'll be more ready than ever in 2021 and wearing the maple leaf with more pride than I thought possible.”
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Among Indian athletes, there were mixed reactions too, that of disappointment as well as relief. The captains of the men's and women's hockey teams both expressed their disappointment at not getting the Games this summer, especially considering the form they were in.
"We were already in a meeting when Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne received the news and broke it to us on Tuesday evening. Personally, I was very disappointed because the team was in good rhythm to do well at the Tokyo Olympics,” Rani Rampal said.
On the other hand, Rampal also acknowledges that the team would now utilise the time to develop greater synergy with new members of the coaching staff and move ahead. “This one year postponement also gives us more time with analytical coach Janneke Schopman,” she said. “She has been a fantastic addition to the support staff and her experience as an Olympic Gold Medallist is very inspiring for us. Hopefully getting to spend more time with her and coach Marjine will pay greater dividends now.”
Saina Nehwal, who has been among the most vocal critics of the BWF for organising the All England Championships at the time of the outbreak in Birmingham, congratulated the IOC for taking the tough call. Nehwal, who was in truth struggling to get enough ranking points to qualify for the Games, has probably benefited from the decision the most personally. With tournaments for accumulating those points cancelled and postponed, Nehwal faced an uphill task to get to Tokyo if the Games had gone as scheduled.
“It’s a good decision by the IOC. For all the athletes who have qualified and for all the athletes who haven't still waiting to participate in the remaining qualifier,” she tweeted. ”Considering the current situation all around the world , every athlete will be at peace now. Safety first.”
As of Tuesday, March 25, there were 375,498 confirmed coronavirus cases across 196 countries. 16,362 people have died from it.
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