The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has begun considering postponement options for the Tokyo Games scheduled to open on July 24 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the International Paralympic Committee has also announced that it will back the IOC’s plan.
Global virus fears have forced an array of Olympic trials and qualifiers to be canceled, leaving 43% of the roughly 11,000 berths undecided. A number of athletes and the Olympic committees of various countries are calling for the 2020 Games to be postponed, citing health concerns and a lack of opportunities for practice, among other reasons.
The IOC had been adamant that the quadrennial event would be held as scheduled, but did a policy U-turn after heeding criticisms from athletes and others concerned. The committee’s move to consider postponement can be called a realistic approach, given the travel bans, lockdowns and other restrictions now in effect in places across the globe.
As the IOC has ruled out the possibility of cancelling the games, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese government have shown understanding toward the IOC’s postponement plan.
There are three possible scenarios for deferring the games: pushing them back to later this year; moving them to next year; and putting them off by two years. These options, however, are not without difficulty.
For some events, they may have to redo Olympic and Paralympic trials depending on how long the games are to be delayed. It would be unprecedented for Olympians and Paralympians to have to be re-selected, putting extra pressure on athletes.
Another challenge is the need to reschedule other major international competitions. If the 2020 Games are to be pushed back to this coming autumn, they would overlap with the pro sports seasons in the United States and Europe. Therefore, American broadcasters that have paid colossal sums to the IOC for the broadcast rights to the games are keen to avoid this scenario. There is also a possibility that the coronavirus pandemic may not have subsided by that time.
If the Tokyo Games are to be moved to 2021, they would have to avoid conflicting with world championships including athletics and swimming already scheduled for that year. If the games are to be delayed to 2022, it would raise the need to reschedule the Asian Games in China and other events. Efforts to broaden understanding throughout the international community would be imperative to move the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to another calendar year.
Organizers would also have to redo a host of preparations such as securing athletic facilities, holding ticket lotteries, arranging accommodation and means of transport for Olympic and Paralympic delegations, and soliciting volunteer staff.
Yet another headache is the need to coordinate how to share the extra operating cost burdens. Payments of penalties due to contract changes and compensation for financial losses, as well as the hefty personnel costs for the Tokyo organizing committee’s several thousand employees, also pose tremendous challenges.
While the IOC says it will finalize its delay decision within the next four weeks, it should come to a swift conclusion from the athletes-first perspective. It is also urged to explore better ways to carry out the torch relay set to start on March 26, with the games’ possible postponement in mind.