The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics scheduled for this coming summer have been postponed for about one year because of the new coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. It is a reasonable decision since there is no sign yet that spread of the COVID-19 is under control.
Postponement of the 2020 Games triggers many challenges, such as the selection of national team members, rescheduling of Olympic venues and securing their staff, maintaining support organizations for the event, and managing the swelling financial burden. Fortunately, the worst scenario of cancelling the Tokyo Games has been avoided. However, Japan must now begin anew and demonstrate its resolve to make the 2021 sports pageant a great success.
Control the Virus, then Celebrate the Festival of Humanity
We were surprised by two matters in the decision to delay the Games.
One is that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a phone call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on March 24, proposed “considering postponement of the Tokyo Games for about a year,” and the IOC chief responded, “I agree 100%.” And that was it.
The Abe-Bach agreement made postponement of the Olympics a matter of de facto certainty, even though it was subsequently approved by the IOC executive board in an emergency meeting.
Prior to the decision, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and host city Tokyo Metropolitan Government had been virtually under the thumb of the IOC, as exemplified by the decision to change the venue for the Olympic marathons and race walking from Tokyo to Sapporo, Hokkaido. The atmosphere was one of forbidding any expression of disagreement with the IOC.
There were many who voiced the opinion that “the final say rests with the IOC” regarding whether to reschedule the Games as a result of the global spread of the novel coronavirus. It is extraordinary that the IOC president received, and then signaled agreement with a proposal from the leader of the host country, without first seeking approval of the executive board.
Before the telephone talks with IOC President Bach, Prime Minister Abe had obtained concerted support from the leaders of the G-7 nations in a video conference on March 13, for “holding the Tokyo Games in their entirety to prove that mankind can overcome the new coronavirus.”
After the IOC decision, Bach said the Tokyo Games “will become a celebration of mankind overcoming this unprecedented crisis of the coronavirus.” It may be that he took to heart Prime Minister Abe’s statement in the G-7 video conference.
The Tokyo Games have thus taken on a new meaning and mission as a symbol of mankind’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This can also be called Prime Minister Abe’s pledge to the world, placing Japan as host nation in a position to fulfill its responsibilities for the success of the XXXII Olympiad.
The first thing that must be done in this regard is to concentrate on the challenge of subduing the spread of the COVID-19 infections. Experts in the Japanese government have expressed concern over the risk of “overshoot” of the virus, or explosive increases in the number of cases in Japan. Even in Tokyo, the host city of the Games, the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise. Combating the spread of this infection cannot be achieved without cooperation of the general public.
If the pandemic is not under control within a year, it will become impossible to hold the Tokyo Olympics. For this reason, Japan needs to play a leading role in the development of treatments and vaccines against the virus.
Cheering On the Olympic Torch Relay Runners
Our second surprise was the swift signal of support for the postponement of the Games by major international sports organizations, including World Athletics (formerly the International Association of Athletics Federations) and FINA (the International Swimming Federation).
The World Athletics and FINA championships, scheduled to take place next summer in Oregon in the United States and the city of Fukuoka, Japan, respectively, were expected to be the biggest impediments to putting off the Olympics for a year. But both federations expressed willingness to flexibly consider rescheduling their events.
U.S. broadcasting giant NBC Universal, which has exclusive broadcast rights in the United States, as well as major corporate sponsors such as America’s Coca-Cola Co., also supported the decision to postpone the Games. Thus, the value of the Games has been widely acknowledged.
The IOC has been struggling to secure host city candidates for the Olympics because of the bloated costs and local commitments required, as well as competition from the surge in popularity of world championships of the various sports held outside of the Olympics. Seeing the Games in a quandary, however, two key international organizations for both swimming and track and field, in addition to a range of other groups, came together to express agreement with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics. If the Tokyo Games prove successful, this may well help to revive a sense of direction to the straying Olympic movement.
In the midst of this momentum from world sports organizations, there has been a conspicuous lack of presence from sports organizations in Japan. There is a need first for some soul searching, and then for a renewed spirit of leadership from Japanese sports organizations to support a successful Tokyo Olympics.
IOC President Bach said, “The Olympic torch will remain in Japan as a symbol of hope, and as the light at the end of this dark tunnel the whole world is going through together.”
The torch relay that was slated to begin in Fukushima Prefecture on March 26 was also suspended. This too was a valid decision, as we are still in the dark tunnel of the battle against this infectious disease.
We want to see the Olympic flame being handed from one runner to another, accompanied by cheers from joyful crowds along the way. This is the happy scene we look forward to witnessing in all parts of Japan next year.
(Click here to read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun