Elliott: IOC finally made the smart decision by postponing the Tokyo Olympics until 2021

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, has at least twice staked poetic imagery in the past week, calling the Olympic flame the light at the end of the tunnel the world is going through during these terrible days of COVID-19- pandemic. But it wasn’t until Tuesday that Bach saw the light of reason and announced the postponement of the Tokyo Summer Games.

And even then, long after it became clear that athletes constrained by staying at home couldn’t train properly and no one could say when the new corona virus would disappear, it took a rebellion from several national Olympic committees and powerful sports federations to pierce the wayward darkness of the IOC and force the organization to make the delay official.

Two days after the IOC said it would take up to four weeks to consider the options and consult with its stakeholders – including the corporate sponsors and TV networks that fund so much of the giant Games – Bach and his company made an unusually fast lead. As much as they were eager to wait until they were able to solve some of the huge problems a reprieve entails, they knew that if they didn’t tell the world immediately and decisively that they put athletes’ safety first, they would seem crude and indifferent. asked.

The appearance of rudeness and indifference had become an unofficial Olympic sport among previous IOC officials. No matter what time this announcement was Tuesday, it was actually a sign of progress.

The Games, which would run from July 24 to August 9, are being moved to “a date beyond 2020 but no later than summer 2021, to protect the health of the athlete, everyone involved in the Olympics and the international community. The IOC said in a statement. They will be known as the Tokyo Games of 2020. Feel free to add an imaginary asterisk.

The difficult occupation of housing for athletes, officials and spectators and the rearrangement of the international sports calendar are among the main pains of the IOC. In addition, the participation of NBA players has been questioned due to possible conflicts caused by the new timing. It’s unclear whether the NBA will push into late summer this season, and if so, speculation is that the 2020-21 season may not begin until December. If the Tokyo Games are to be held next spring, which is possible, NBA and college players would be in the middle of their respective seasons and likely unavailable.

Postponing the games now offers at least time to fix those problems. “With this decision, work on planning a new version of the Tokyo Games is officially underway,” Sarah Hirshland, chief executive officer of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, told Team USA athletes on Tuesday. “This summer would be the culmination of your hard work and your life’s dream, but stepping back from the competition to take care of our communities and each other is the right decision. Your moment is waiting for us to gather safely again.”

The reprieve was a welcome sign of assurance for athletes shocked by their careful routines. They lost training spots with the closure of the schools, colleges, and gyms they used, and those who had not captured an Olympic berth lost the opportunity to earn a spot because qualifying events were canceled.

Distance swimmer Haley Anderson, a USC alumna who won a silver medal in the 10K race at the 2012 London Games and was the first American athlete to qualify for Tokyo, expected the postponement but was not convinced that the IOC would do the right thing.

“So much goes to the Olympics and sometimes the athletes can be forgotten, even though they say it’s all about the athletes,” she told Times reporter Nathan Fenno. “Athletes’ safety and things like that aren’t always paramount in people’s minds. It’s nice that this is a deal now.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.

(Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images)

As a member of the U.S. national water polo team, Maggie Steffens, two-time Olympic gold medalist, provided good company as she processed her feelings on Tuesday. Joining a team also gave her a great perspective as she balanced her thoughts about the delay with knowledge of the suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just said to someone that it is our value to always put the team first. And right now, the team we should put first is the world, ”she said. “So the health and safety of that team, the world, as the No. 1 priority is the most important thing.”

Steffens, three-time NCAA champion at Stanford, said she was prepared for the postponement, but was hit hard by the finality. “As athletes, especially Olympic athletes, you train constantly for adversity and for the unknown. And for us, that unknown and setback is usually in a water polo game. So this is a much higher level,” she said.

“Our Olympic dream is still there. My Olympic dream is still there. It’s just that the journey is going to work a little differently and the end date will be a little different. Once we have more information, we will continue to plan how we can be the best team we can be for this country. “

Former UCLA gymnastics stunner Danusia Francis, 25, was willing to leave the sport after representing Jamaica in Tokyo this summer. She plans to continue with the rescheduled Games, although other athletes may not be able to make the same choice. Some have already postponed their job or school or lucrative offers abroad, and the change in timing could change their course.

However, it is an easy choice for Francis. Like Bach, she sees hope in the light of the Olympic flame. “It will be such a great way to celebrate that we got through the other side of this epidemic,” she told Times reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen. “I hope that although it’s delayed, it can be the light at the end of the tunnel and just be even more amazing than this year.”

Now is the time to run, swim, jump, row and float to the light, hoping that the warmth and brilliance will heal us all.

Ultimately, the International Olympic Committee had no choice but to postpone the Olympic Games until 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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