The aftermath of Olympic postponement

March 29, 2020

Pakistan sports bodies calculate the impact that the delay in Tokyo Olympics is going to have on their athletes’ preparation and consequently on their finances

The inevitable finally happened last week. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year due to deadly COVID-19 which has wreaked havoc across the globe.

The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach said on Wednesday (March 25) that the rescheduled Tokyo Games faced “thousands” of logistical and financial problems and could go ahead before summer 2021.

Though most people have assumed the Games will be held around roughly the same July-August timetable as they were planned for this year, IOC President said earlier dates in 2021 were possible. “The agreement is that we want to organise these Games at the latest in the summer 2021,” Bach told a conference call. “This is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table including the summer 2021.”

The IOC agreed with Japan on Tuesday (March 24) to the first postponement in the Olympics’ 124-year history due to risks from the coronavirus impact. It was the last major international sporting event of 2020 to be cancelled, with many questioning why a seemingly inevitable decision took so long to make as the coronavirus epidemic raged around the world.

The decision was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in the run-up and presents a massive headache to reorganise logistics, funding and sponsorship.

Bach said he could not guarantee all elements of the Games would remain as initially planned. For example, he did not know what would happen with the athletes’ village, where apartments were set to be sold after the Games this year.

“This is one of the many thousands of questions this task force will have to address. We hope and we will do whatever we can so that there is an Olympic village, the village is where the heart of the Games beat,” he said.

“Our mission is to organise Games and make dreams of athletes come true,” he added. “We have no blueprint but we are confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and in the end have wonderful Olympic Games.”

Bach, a 66-year-old German lawyer and former Olympic fencing champion, also said that outright cancellation was discussed, even though the IOC had long insisted that was not an option.

The only times the Olympics have been cancelled were during World Wars. “Of course cancellation was discussed and considered like all options on the table, but it was very clear from the beginning that cancellation should not be something the IOC would in any way favour,” Bach said.

The IOC was due to start talks from Thursday (March 26) with other global sporting bodies as moving the gigantic Olympics event has a knock-on effect for many other competitions.

“We are in an unprecedented situation. I guess these postponed Olympic Games will need sacrifices, will need compromises by all stakeholders,” he added.

Bach’s words have a lot of substance. The decision was tough but inevitable in the prevailing circumstances. Around 57 percent athletes had qualified. Their training was disturbed by the lockdown. Those 43 percent who had not yet qualified also were facing huge problems in preparation. They did not even know their events as all qualifiers were postponed because of the pandemic.

Japan suffered the most because everything was ready. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after taking parliament into confidence held a telephonic conversation with Bach and the postponement was agreed upon.

Uncertainty still persists as it is yet to be seen when the pandemic will be overcome. Olympic qualifiers will be rescheduled. What will be the status of football event in particular which is an under-23 event? There are numerous other questions. Athletes are sad and happy at the same time. We will take the example of Pakistan, struggling to qualify in some more events. So far Pakistan has qualified in three disciplines. Three shooters, Gulfam Joseph, Khalil Akhtar and Ghulam Mustafa Bashir, javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem and Melbourne-based horse-rider Usman Khan have qualified for the world’s most prestigious extravaganza.

The marksmen are training in Germany. The delay of the Games will add to the financial burden on the shooting authorities of Pakistan (NRAP). The latest report is that the shooters’ stay in Germany has been extended because of the closure of international flights until April 4. The shooters went to Germany for one-month training which the NRAP says has cost the association Rs4.5 million. The delay will put more financial burden on it.

Arshad, the javelin thrower, seems to have been more affected. Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) had arranged a Finland tour for him from May 1 but that cannot go ahead because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arshad was also unlucky as his China tour was cut short by the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan where four other Pakistani athletes accompanied him.

Now the AFP will plan again for him once the situation is better. But it will not be that easy.

The same is the case for horse-rider Usman who has been spending around 170,000 Australian dollars per year on his training. He is bearing the expenses himself. The delay in Olympics may also hit Dubai-based karateka Saadi Abbas who has been making effort to qualify for the Olympics. He is to appear in three more qualifying events. He is currently being sponsored by a company but it is not known whether his sponsors will continue to support him. He may face big issues if the sponsors withdraw.

The same is the case with Japan-based Olympian Shah Hussain. Although he has achieved continental quota with his 42nd ranking but he has to maintain this ranking. Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) wants to send him to four countries for qualifiers. But the changes in the schedule and maybe in venues can create big issues. The PJF again will have to request the government for the support.

In the new situation, in which the athletes will need extra funds, Pakistan government must help them. Till date there has been no state support to Olympics hopefuls. However, one thing which I will clear here is that the delay of the Games has given the players more time to train. NRAP Executive Vice-President Javed Lodhi told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) that now they will have more time at their disposal. “I think the delay in Olympic Games will help our shooters to prepare much better. The report I have received from Germany is that our shooters have improved a lot during their one-month training there,” Lodhi said.

However, he was quick to add that now the association would have to plan afresh and it would definitely cost it more. “We have requested the government but so far we have not received any financial help,” Lodhi said.

Meanwhile, Pakistani boxers are yet to feature in the world qualifying round. The wrestlers will also try their luck for grabbing Olympics seats and the weightlifters will feature in the Asian Championship which has been postponed because of the outbreak of novel coronavirus.

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The aftermath of Olympic postponement