Some of the original opinions expressed in this article can be attributed to Brad Glosserman, deputy director of the Center for Rule Making Strategies at Tama University, who contributes to The Japan Times.
It came as a shock to many that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waited until only last week to announce that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics would be postponed, despite the fact that most of the world has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, with about a third of the global population under some form of lockdown measures. The new date for the games relies mainly on when the pandemic will be under control, but if they push through next year, the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics will be a triumph for humanity—over disease, hardship and isolation.
Mr Abe, along with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), led by president Thomas Bach, made the decision to postpone the games, with health and safety considerations—especially that of the around 11,000 athletes from 26 nations—being the primary factor.
The joint statement from the Tokyo 2020 organising committee and the IOC noted that “the Games … 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”.
Acting collaterally, the Japanese and the IOC relayed that financial factors were heavily studied, with both parties taking responsibility for the move to postpone the games.
Cost-wise, there are difficult times ahead. The official cost of the entire event is said to be ¥1.35 trillion (S$17.8 billion), but some reports say that national government outlays—which should just be 10 per cent of the total—are in reality 10 times the expected amount. An audit projected the actual cost at US$25 billion (S$35.5 billion).
Rescheduling the games at a later date will incur large costs, such as the ¥240 billion (S$3.2 billion) estimated cost of millions of spectators cancelling their flights and trip plans. Other factors that will contribute to costs are the coordination and rescheduling of event locations, more than 45,000 hotel rooms, the media headquarters, equipment rentals.
A huge expense is the athletes’ village—which has more than 5,000 apartments built for an expected 15,000 athletes and staff—projected at US$2.7 billion (S$3.8 billion), while another estimate tagged US$5.7 billion (S$8.1 billion).The residential area was originally meant to be sold to the public after the games, but with the postponement of the games, that is currently on hold.
Both Prime Minister Abe’s and IOC president Bach’s careers and legacies are taking hits with the postponement of the games.
While Abe has made the 2020 games a major focus of his term, citing it as the symbol of the “revitalization of Japan” and of national pride and unity. Bach, gunning for a second eight-year term as president of IOC in the 2021 elections, has spent years spearheading the committee’s mammoth efforts in organising the Olympic Games.
The decision to cancel the games was ultimately out of their hands, with athletes calling for its postponement amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, even though Bach himself told them only weeks earlier to continue training “with great confidence and full steam”. Many are under lockdown protocols which prohibit them from training properly and remaining in fighting fit condition.
Even before the official announcement to postpone was made, Germany, Poland, Canada and Australia asked for a delay in the games, with the latter two countries saying they would not send their athletes to the Olympics unless it was rescheduled. In a survey done by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, almost 70 per cent of athlete respondents said it would be unfair if the games would still push through this July.
On the other side of the coin, athletes are facing a major risk with the postponement of the games. While the 6,200 athletes who had previously qualified to compete will hold on to their places, way more than that number will have to still have to earn their spots.
Athletes who expected to compete in July will have to change their training regimes and programmes to accommodate the delay. But with the new date yet unspecified—and dependent on the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic—athletes are facing an extremely difficult challenge.
According to experts, it is impossible for athletes training for the Olympics to sustain that high level of performance for a long period of time, and it is just as difficult for them to adjust to a lower level of training and then build it back up to prepare for a new date that is as of yet unknown.
Time between now and the new date may not be kind to some athletes, who are currently at their prime and may not be when the games are finally back on, but this may also give younger athletes an edge.
This is critical as Olympic outcomes are determined by tiny measurements—thousandths of a second in speed or centimetres in distance—and the time period of months can drastically change the way an athlete performs.
Around 50 to 60 per cent of athletes will still be able to qualify for the games, if they are postponed by one year, according to an analysis cited by The Japan Times. However, that same delay will negatively affect about 40 per cent of athletes, who may just lose their chances at that elusive and glorious Olympic dream.
The COVID-19 pandemic has deferred our life plans, pushed our dreams aside, and changed the way we interact with each other, profoundly so. With the message of “stay at home” blared loudly from all corners of the globe, it seems like everything is on hold.
If the Olympic Games are held next year, they could be a triumph for humanity, “a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times”, as the IOC and Tokyo organising committee said when they announced the postponement.
The games being back on would mean that the world would have gotten the upper hand on the coronavirus—it would signify victory and a unity never before seen, because nothing brings the world together like beating a virus that has inflicted so much damage on people, regardless of race or religion. /TISG