For a sport like mine, canoeing, the Olympics are your ultimate competitive expression. The best athletes in the world get together once every four years to fight for their dreams while the rest of the world gets excited watching their efforts and achievements.
Just two days ago, with exactly 4 months to go until the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee decided to postpone the most important multi-sport event in the world until 2021.
The day before, IOC President Thomas Bach had announced that they were considering a postponement, and that they would make the decision within 4 weeks. However, the decision could not be delayed any longer. Many national and international federations, as well as athletes and citizens from around the world, demanded the Games to be postponed, and it became clear that they could not continue with the agenda as programmed and ignore the claims.
It is the first Olympic Games to be delayed in history. Previously, the editions of 1916, 1940 and 1944 had been cancelled only in times of world wars. Interestingly enough, in 1940 the Olympic Games should also have been held in the Japanese capital, had it not been for the outbreak of World War II. However, this time there are two unique circumstances in the history of Olympism.
On the one hand, there is a global health crisis unprecedented in our times and as one of the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter says, the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. At this moment, the Olympic movement had to focus on all humanity and send a clear message that health and safety must be above all.
On the other hand, prior to this announcement of postponement, many were beginning to define these Olympic Games as the “Games of inequality”, since the conditions of Olympic preparation for many countries were not being optimal due to the general confinement policies adopted by some governments, while for others the situation had not yet become so complicated, or they simply approached the context of athletes from another perspective, allowing them certain exceptions. For these reasons, and as a sign of solidarity with all the athletes in the world who dreamed of giving their best at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the leaders had to live up to and postpone the event.
Simply by checking the social networking sites of our athletes we can see the conditions in which they are training, while the essence of their sport was getting lost. Canoeists without going on the water. Swimmers without a pool. Athletes without stepping on the track. Judokas without a partner. Cyclists without going on the road or to the velodrome. Climbers without a wall. Surfers without waves. No matter where you looked, athletes were training between the anxiety of not knowing what would happen with their Olympic dream and the frustration of seeing some of their rivals from other countries train normally or at least with viable restrictions for doing their sport.
Now at least we already know that our athletes will be able to take a breather and their coaches will be able to go back to their boards and count the weeks left before the Olympic Games. However, we will also have to face multiple unknowns while we dance between optimism and discouragement. When will we get out of this damn crisis? What will happen to athletes’ funds if there are no competitions? What will those who were planning to retire do or whose age might not be as adequate as in 2020? What will those athletes who perhaps planned to become mothers in the post-Olympic year do or those who had postponed everything until after the Olympic Games? How can we prepare for such an important event in 2021 when a 4-year programme is shattered in its final stretch?
At least we are lucky that the Olympic Games will be held in Japan, since there are not many countries that could face the huge financial losses that this postponement will cause.
In the same way, I consider that it would have been a great pity if the country of the rising sun could not shine in all its splendour due to this serious pandemic that is devastating the entire world. Since 2018 I have had the opportunity to visit this country on 3 occasions due to the preparations of our team and I must say that its level of hospitality and commitment to organize these Olympic Games is worthy of the greatest admiration.
This postponement now allows us as citizens to focus on the most important thing, which is to help society to get out of this health crisis, and as sport professionals it allows us to reset our plans and begin to redesign our way to the Games, if possible, with more enthusiasm and ambition than ever.
It is time to recover, to learn from this crisis and to come out stronger so that next year we can all enjoy the greatest show in the world. The Olympic Games of hope and solidarity.