2020 Olympics becomes latest domino to fall amid pandemic

2020 Olympics becomes latest domino to fall amid pandemic

Photo Credits: JOELLE TAHTA / AGGIE

2020 Olympics becomes latest domino to fall amid pandemic

With the uncertain future that lies ahead for the country and the world, major events have been canceled or postponed. Concerts, sporting events, festivals and more have all been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. With no clear end in sight for this global pandemic, those in charge of these events have been forced to make tough decisions. 

Arguably the largest event forced to change course was the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in Tokyo, Japan starting in July. As the pandemic spread and the pressure to act grew, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the body responsible for organizing the games, was somewhat cautious to make an immediate decision regarding the worldwide event held every four years. 

In late March, the Olympic Committees of both Canada and Australia announced they would not be sending their athletes to the games if they were to be held this year. They urged the IOC to postpone the event until 2021. 

“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee said in a joint statement. “This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health.”

The message was echoed by the Australian side, and shortly thereafter countries like Norway and Brazil expressed similar concerns. This put the IOC in a position it had not been in since 1980, when over 60 countries chose not to participate in the games being held in Moscow, as part of a boycott of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. 

Finally, on March 24, the IOC, alongside Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, released a statement saying the games would be rescheduled. 

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” the statement read. 

The much-criticized IOC finally made a decision and, for the first time in over 70 years, the Olympic Games will not be held on its originally scheduled date. This is the first time the games will not be held as planned for a reason other than war. The games have only been canceled three times in history: in 1916 and then consecutively in 1940 and 1944. 

The 1916 Summer Games were scheduled to be held in Berlin, but due to the outbreak of the first World War, it became the first Olympics ever to be canceled. In 1940, Japan was scheduled to become the first non-Western Country to host the games, but it had to forfeit that opportunity when it went to war with China, and the games were canceled altogether. The same decision was made for the 1944 games in London, as World War II was still ongoing. 

It is rare for the Olympics to not be held at its normal time, as even dangerous political situations, boycotts or civil unrest — short of a world war — have not deterred its occurence. This puts into perspective just how serious and widespread this pandemic has become in such a short amount of time. 

The health of the athletes, the local population and everyone involved is the major concern that trumps all else, but that does not mean the decision to postpone was a straightforward one. Although the IOC said athletes who had qualified for the 2020 games will be able to keep their spots for 2021, this extra year can serve as a blessing and a curse. 

“I was having the best swimming year of my life, and so this is a very, very hard time for me,” said Olympic swimmer Kathleen Baker to GQ. “My whole world has been flipped upside down — all of my purpose has been shifted and all the sacrifices I’ve made will be sacrifices for another year.”

Chuck Aoki, a wheelchair rugby Olympian, spoke about his teammates’ reaction to the postponement.

“I have teammates who are — they’re okay,” Aoki said. “There’s nothing quite as great as representing your country and getting to compete and travel the world. But it’s going to be hard for some guys.”

Rai Benjamin, a track and field Olympian, was preparing for his first Olympic Games.

“Preparing for these Olympic games I was locked in,” Benjamin said. “And now I’ve had to ask myself like, ‘All right, what’s your motivation?’ Like, ‘Why am I doing this right now?’ And it’s kind of heartbreaking to have no end goal in sight for right now. It’s like, ‘Do I just relax and start over again in July?’ Because it’s just really unclear as to what’s going to happen.”

The decision to postpone has come with mixed reactions, and many athletes are now faced with tough decisions. Some will now have to put their education on hold, some will struggle to make ends meet and some will have to decide if they will be able to handle another year of waiting. It is a difficult mental hurdle for many competitors, and the postponement could make it even more difficult on some of the older athletes. 

Behind the scenes, the postponement means a great deal for the city of Tokyo. The Olympics have never been thought of as a profitable event for the host city or country — a 2012 study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School shows just how much the cost of hosting the games has increased since 1960. Taking into account both the Summer and Winter Games, the average cost overrun stands at around 179%. 

Any city that takes on the burden of these events is risking a lot. In December of 2019, the Tokyo Olympic organizers announced they would be spending the equivalent of $12.6 billion on the event. Questions were raised over that figure’s accuracy, and soon after Japan’s National Audit board prepared a 177-page report that showed that the claim was in fact false. The actual cost of the games was more than double that amount, costing an estimated $28 billion. 

This was all before the current coronavirus situation, which now poses the question of how much more money this will cost the City of Tokyo. The organizers now have to revamp their plans for next year’s games, which includes logistical and promotional factors that will require more spending. 

On top of that, they must now maintain stadiums and facilities for another year, renegotiate business deals and much more. Various reports have estimated the added costs to be anywhere from $2 billion to $6 billion, but the exact amount won’t be known until there is more clarity moving forward. Regardless, the amount is expected to be quite large, and the hosts have begun looking for ways to cut costs in order to limit losses as much as possible. 

We are living in an unprecedented moment in history. For many, including the IOC, the hope is that next summer’s games will take place when this pandemic is in the rear view mirror. There is a lot at stake for the athletes and the organizers. The decision to postpone has caused ripple effects that impact participants and hosts alike. Many are confident that the games will take place during the rescheduled dates, but with so much of the future uncertain, it is hard to say what will happen. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org