2020 Olympics postponed as COVID-19 infection rates rise

Mar 26, 2020 | COVID-19, News, Sports

Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games
The Olympic rings at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo after the Summer Games were postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. (REUTERS / Issei Kato)
By Neil Gonputh

As the world continues to self-isolate, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) announced on March 24 that this year’s Summer Olympics will be set for next year.

The IOC President Thomas Bach and the Prime Minister of Japan determined the Summer Games had to be postponed, an IOC press release dated March 24, said.

The postponement was to safeguard the health of the athletes, those involved with the Games and the international community, an IOC press release said.

Countdown clocks for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games are currently covered with banners that read “Adjusting” after postponing the Games due to the outbreak of COVID-19. (REUTERS / Issei Kato)

But days before the IOC came to this decision, while they were considering various options and scenarios, Canada announced it would not be sending athletes to the 2020 Summer Games if they were still held in July.

The Canadian Olympic Committee made the difficult decision to not send teams to the Olympic Games, a COC March 22 press release said.

This was a bold move considering the IOC had not yet decided whether the games were cancelled. But even if the games had not been postponed, the COC would not have changed their minds.

“We’re pretty adamant with the statement we put out yesterday,” COC spokesperson Josh Su said referring to the COC’s decision.

Su said the health and safety of the athletes was the main priority in the COC’s decision.

The COC statement said “nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community.”

It appears many of the athletes were on board with the COC’s and CPC’s decision.

Jennifer Bennett, a professor of Sport Management and Sport Business Management at Humber College and twice the former Team Ontario Chef de Mission, said she believes the Olympic athletes favoured the decision to postpone the games for two reasons.

The first was the need for adequate training, which they could not get now given the closure of many facilities due to COVID-19 and because of the anxiety and stress caused by the uncertainty of whether the games were going to happen.

“This close to the start of a Games these athletes should be in their peak training times. They should be in the gym working harder than they have to prepare and ensure they are in the best shape possible,” Bennett said.

But they can’t do this because they can’t access their training facilities and coaches, she said.

Bennett said even though many are training in self-isolation, it is not what they need to prepare for the Games.

The COC’s decision gave the Canadian athletes some certainly allowing them to plan for the next year, Bennett said.

She said the postponement also helps in the qualification process.

Bennett points out that during the last three months many sports competitions have been cancelled that would have been used for Olympic qualifications.

“Already going into these games there was a question on how are we going to qualify the athletes,” Bennett said.

“Are we going to open it up to more athletes than would traditionally be allowed to go simply because we had to cancel the basketball qualifier or the tae kwon do qualifier or whatever the sport was? They couldn’t qualify the athletes to get them there,” she said.

With these competitions cancelled it now becomes a question of how to determine who to send. Modifications to the qualification process would not necessarily ensure the best athletes are representing the country.

“Some of the things they were thinking about doing was looking at world rankings…based on the points you had accumulated to date, you would get to go. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are that best athlete to go,” Bennett said.

She said it was a big move for the Canadian sport system to come out as the leader in this push to make the decision.

“Up until that point when Canada came out, the IOC’s position was they were really going to wait until May 1 to make the decision,” Bennett said.

“They were really going to wait and do everything in their power to actually get these games off when they were scheduled to go,” she said. “It was the Canadian position that helped push them to make that decision sooner and to postpone [the Games].”

Although the IOC has officially postponed the games to July 2021, unless the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved, what will happen a year from now remains uncertain.