Should Tokyo Olympics be Postponed? India’s Contingent Decides
With Japan expected to welcome over 6,00,000 people at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in a matter of four months, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has cast a dark shadow over this summer’s sporting extravaganza. However, the International Olympic Council (IOC) President Thomas Bach has continued to maintain that it is too ‘premature’ to postpone Tokyo 2020, in March.
As many as 43 % of the athletes are yet to secure or complete Olympic qualification with sporting events across the world temporarily suspended. Several of them lashed out at IOC’s advice to continue training this week with specific regions such as Italy and Iran under complete lockdown.
Rio 2016 Olympic Women’s Pole Vault gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi from Greece accused the IOC of putting athletes in danger on a descriptive social media post. Incidentally, the 30-year old was scheduled to hand over the ceremonial flame to Japanese officials, but the Greek leg of the torch relay was cancelled due to COVID-19.
For India, 74 athletes across seven different sports have secured their ticket to Tokyo 2020. The Quint conducted a survey with 30 of the country’s Olympic berth procurers, asking them about their opinion on the impact of the novel Coronavirus.
The question posed: “Should Tokyo Olympics 2020 be postponed?” with three options – yes, no or maybe.
Yes – “For the Equality That Olympics Stand For”
India’s shooting contingent finished the 2019 calendar year ranked 1 in the world, securing as many as 21 ISSF World Cup gold medals. Nine shooters rank in the world top 5 across three different individual categories, highlighting their status as India’s strongest Tokyo Olympic medal prospects. However, several of them have expressed their views to postpone the games to 2010
A member of the shooting contingent, who didn’t want to be named told The Quint, “All shooters train for years to qualify for the Olympics. It’s a lot of years hard work that gets them there, many of them from other countries are not being able to practice because of the pandemic, hence it gives countries like us who are training everyday and regularly an unfair advantage. For the equality that Olympics stand for and the ongoing health hazards that might put athletes at risk, the Olympics should be postponed to end of this year or next year.”
All Indian shooters interviewed during the survey overwhelmingly want the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to get postponed to 2021.
Indian women’s boxer who has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, her first, also advocated a potential postponement. She told The Quint, “I am sure IOC will take the correct decision for everyone involved, but if you ask me I think it should be postponed. Several athletes are unable to practice due to this and the world has not seen a situation like this ever. For everyone’s safety maybe it can be postponed to 2021. Once we can resume training, I will fully prepare with the Olympics in mind, be it now or 2021, my goal is a medal.”
Members of India’s boxing Asian Olympic qualification tournament in Jordan are currently under self-quarantine in their respective home towns as per government regulations.
In badminton, the race to Tokyo rankings cut-off date is scheduled for April 26. This particular ranking will determine the shuttlers heading to Tokyo. But, with all tournaments leading up to the date currently suspended by BWF, the fate of India’s badminton stars remains unknown.
A member on the brink of potential qualification told The Quint, “I think now it will get postponed to 2021, the federation and IOC know about the ground realities, but for athletes it will be tough to guarantee safety during the coronavirus period and for the organisers as well. 2021 is the best way to go.”
A further 10 out of the 23 wanted it to be held behind closed doors, fearing a potential relapse. Several others believed closed door competition would affect sponsors, athletes and fans collectively.
A member from the Archery contingent said, “Having it closed doors is a good idea, but it spoils it for the athlete, who basically plays for the crowd, dreams of playing in front of a crowd. As we don’t get much crowd in our tournaments, we watch YouTube videos to see how archers in other countries deal with the crowd.”
He added, “That being said, nothing is more important than health, and if required the Games should be held in closed doors.”
Most athletes replied to the question only on condition of anonymity since the Sports Minister had made a statement on 19 March that no one should comment on the Games. "Nobody should raise any issue about the Olympics right now because nobody knows what is going to happen after three months. What will be the situation then nobody knows," said Kiren Rijiju
No – “The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Subside”
India’s Tokyo Olympic wrestling aspirants were dealt a major blow last month, after the Asian Wrestling Olympic qualifier to be held from March 27- 29 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan was temporarily suspended. That being said, four Indian grapplers already secured a spot in Tokyo through their 2019 World Championship podium finishes in Kazakhstan last year.
Two of the surveyed wrestlers were against the Olympic Games getting postponed. Choosing to remain anonymous, one of them said, “I think the Olympic organisers are rightly waiting for this, you never know the pandemic might be controlled really soon. I think it should subside in the coming months or weeks and the Games should happen on schedule, if not it should happen behind closed doors.”
One of India’s sporting icons Mary Kom, who secured her second Olympic qualification in Amman, Jordan earlier this month, predicted against the postponement of Tokyo 2020.
"I don't think the Games will be postponed or cancelled. It is too huge an event to be shifted just like that. It will cause chaos. In any case, it's not in my hands. So, it's better I don't say much,” the 37-year old told PTI.
Mary Kom will not be included in the survey as she was not directly approached by The Quint.
Only two of the surveyed members wanted the summer’s landmark event to be hosted as per schedule. Both also advocated for closed door competition, if required.
Maybe – “We Train Like Tokyo is Happening”
India’s first Equestrian participant in 18 years, Fouaad Mirza is currently in a unique position. The 27-year old is self-isolated with five of horses on a ranch in Ganderkesee, a small town between Oldenburg and Bremen.
Fouaad is one of the few athletes from the list who is yet to estimate the pros and cons of Tokyo Olympic Games postponement. He told The Quint, “I personally feel with the FEI suspending all ongoing remaining qualification events, the entire qualification might need to be done over. The nature of equestrian is such that horses are trained around a four-year cycle, so that will really change the dynamics.”
He added, “However, this is an unprecedented health hazard where countries have come to a standstill. If you ask me personally, it will be a hit for me from the sporting point of view, but the more important aspect here is the risk to people’s lives. So yes, I will choose maybe because there are two different sides to this and IOC will take a decision based on the current situation. I think all of us (athletes), we train like Tokyo is happening as planned.”
He also affirmed closed door hosting being a good idea with indoor arenas in equestrian becoming a regular feature in the calendar.
A senior member in the Indian Men’s hockey team also chose ‘maybe' citing deviation of focus as the reason. He said, “We are focusing on our training, that is the only thing we can do now, everything we are currently doing is directed towards Tokyo.”
A total of five athletes chose this particular option with three of them agreeing to a closed door Tokyo Olympic Games.
The survey results are an overwhelming display of concern about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, affecting the daily lives of athletes who have worked tirelessly to secure Olympic gradation.
With athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers expressing concern around the world, the ball now lies on the IOC court – Tokyo 2020 or Tokyo 2021.
(Suromitro Basu is a journalist and Olympics sports expert, who has worked with publications in India and South East Asia. He has covered multiple Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games editions.)