The Tokyo Olympics hanging in the balance

by Sadhbh O'Shea

Words by Sadhbh O’Shea | Photo by

Little did we know last March when organisers began postponing events due to the emerging coronavirus pandemic that those same events would be on the precipice of cancellation a year later for the same reason.

The organisers of the Tokyo Olympic Games have been adamant that the competition will not befall the same fate as many have already, despite an unnamed official claiming they had privately concluded the opposite. Both the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on 23 July, and the Paralympics, which are due to begin on 24 August, hang in the balance.

Tokyo is currently just over halfway through the state of emergency period announced on 7 January amid rising cases of Covid-19 in the region. The measures appear to be slowing the spread, but they could be extended beyond the current deadline of 7 February as authorities look to reduce case numbers further. 

With the Games still six months away, it might seem premature to worry about whether they will still go ahead. However, if the coronavirus pandemic has taught is anything it is that nothing, not even those events far down the line, is a certainty. The situation in a country can deteriorate extremely quickly. 

I live in the Isle of Man and we went from enjoying life almost as normal, with no community cases, to hard lockdown in just over 24 hours. Coming out the other side is another prospect entirely and one that is not as simple as it was to enter. Here in the middle of the Irish Sea, we have been blessed with an extremely limited spread, but it will still be over three weeks between the beginning of lockdown measures and the lifting of them.

Having experienced relatively low Covid-19 case numbers in the early part of the pandemic, Japan is facing a much tougher fight this time around with daily rises almost triple what was seen during their previous peak in August 2020.

Having experienced relatively low Covid-19 case numbers in the early part of the pandemic, Japan is facing a much tougher fight this time around with daily rises almost triple what was seen during their previous peak in August 2020.

The International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has tried to quell concerns and said a “toolbox of measures” were being put in place to “address the situation”. The IOC and local organisers face an uphill battle to keep everything on course. 

Last year we saw how well a thoroughly planned event bubble worked at cycling races and Olympics could learn something from the 2020 cycling season. However, the multi-discipline competition is a very different kettle of fish. With a vastly increased number of competitors and support workers involved there are a lot more weak spots in the armour that coronavirus could infiltrate.

If the games were to be cancelled it would be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sporting casualty of the whole pandemic. Unlike events such as Paris-Roubaix or a round of the track world cup, there is not another one just around the corner. For many athletes, it would be five years of work laid to waste. 

Within the cycling world, those focused on track and BMX would feel any cancellation most keenly, but it would be a hard hit to any of the disciplines. Perhaps this was the last chance for some, or the best suited course to their capabilities or they’ve never felt better. The challenge for athletes is to keep training and pushing until such time as their told, either way, of the fate of the Olympic Games.

Olympic gold medallist on the track, Elinor Barker told Sky Sports that she could not let doubt seep in, despite the rumours. “Until a decision is actually made and finalised in my head it is on 100 per cent,” she said.

“I think that is the only way mentally that I can deal with it, by still turning up to training every day and giving 100 per cent. Because even if I had one per cent of doubt in my mind, that would impact my training and preparation which I cannot afford to happen.”

Ultimately, the health of the Japanese people should be the paramount factor behind the decision of whether to host the Olympics. However, the IOC and local organisers should not drag out any decision for the sake of the mental health of the athletes. The longer it does take to make the call to cancel, the worse the shock will be felt.

The impact that sport has in society can’t be underestimated and, with the pandemic still raging on throughout the world, being able to watch the Olympic Games would be a huge morale boost for many, but it should not leave a trail of devastation in its wake. I hope that it can go ahead in relative safety, but the Games should not be held at all costs.

If you enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at our review of the 2020 season,
Racing in the Time of Covid, available to buy here.

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