Just a few weeks ago, cancelling the Olympics seemed unthinkable, and people worried that the new coronavirus could interfere with the Tokyo Games, scheduled to begin on July 24. But the IOC and Tokyo organizers have reiterated on many occasions that this will not happen, and IOC president Thomas Bach has urged all Olympic hopefuls to continue to train and work towards the Summer Games. Now, however, after so many event cancellations and postponements, cancelling the Olympics not only seems like a very real possibility, but many people think it’s necessary, and they’re not happy with the IOC’s refusal to take that step.
"I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue their preparation."
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) March 3, 2020
Criticisms of the IOC
Canadian hockey star, five-time Olympic medallist and medical student Hayley Wickenheiser took to Twitter yesterday to voice her disappointment in the IOC and their refusal to even consider a cancellation or postponement of the Games. She wrote that, while the Olympics are an event enjoyed across the world, the global health situation is more important than Tokyo 2020.
“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible,” she wrote. Another Canadian Olympian, race walker Inaki Gomez, has spoken out about the IOC’s stance on the matter. He told the CBC that he thinks postponing the Games “is the right approach.”
“[This is] an example of an organization that is tone deaf to the situation,” Gomez tweeted.
Wickenheiser and Gomez are not alone in feeling this way. The New York Times published an opinion piece by Jules Boykoff today in which he said the Olympics should not go ahead as planned.
Should the @olympics be canceled? No one knows at this point and that IS my point. To say for certain they will go ahead is an injustice to the athletes training and global population at large. We need to acknowledge the unknown. #COVID19 https://t.co/CssKuMaMhj
— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) March 17, 2020
“For the sake of global public health,” he wrote, “the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games should be cancelled.”
The Olympics are set to start on July 24, and in a press release published yesterday, the IOC said “with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage.” Boykoff responded to this, saying that “refusing to even consider alternatives is reckless,” and the “responsible course” is one of “evidence-driven speculation.”
How can athletes continue to train?
Bach’s statement encouraging athletes to continue to train and prepare for Tokyo 2020 is much easier said than done for some athletes. Many runners can continue to train at their local track or on the road while keeping an appropriate distance between themselves and others, and even if a nationwide quarantine is announced, some runners could continue to train at home on treadmills.
An example of an organization that is tone-deaf to the situation:
“IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 […] there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage[…]
IOC encourages all athletes to continue to prepare […] as best they can.” https://t.co/5O2q9wSwYb
— Iñaki Gómez (@InakiGomezG) March 17, 2020
But with gym, pool and other facilities all closed down across the globe, athletes from other sports (like swimming, gymnastics and those requiring specialized facilities) are unable to train. Sure, these athletes can maintain fitness, but at the elite level, putting hours in to hone one’s craft every day is imperative for success on the Olympic stage.
Boykoff wrote that the IOC has adopted a mantra of “the Games must go on,” but in this case, the best choice—for the Olympics, the athletes and the world as a whole—may be to postpone or cancel Tokyo 2020 altogether.