Sat | May 30, 2020

In support of the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Officials light a lantern from the Olympic Flame at the end of a flame display ceremony in Iwaki, northern Japan. Before the Olympics were postponed, Japan looked like it had COVID-19 infections contained, even as they spread in neighboring countries.
Don Anderson

No one can be happy that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has finally made a decision to call off the Tokyo Olympics until 2021. This was the only practical decision to have made, but the delay in coming to this position meant that athletes were kept in limbo for too long, and unnecessarily so.

I am one of those who have felt strongly that once the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the Olympics should have been immediately called off.

I posit the following in support of this view.

- The acceleration in the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past three weeks mean that the novel coronavirus is not likely to reach its peak for at least another four to six weeks, effectively not before the middle of May, just nine weeks before the scheduled start of the Olympics in July. Not enough time for the Tokyo Organising Committee, irrespective of how efficient it is, to put all in place for hosting the Games.

- The prognosis by the medical experts is that even if the rate of new increases begins to fall off after that, this really just speaks to fewer cases emerging, so that it is anticipated that new cases will still be recorded in May and possibly June.

- The state of mind of the athletes is of paramount interest. The level of uncertainty, bordering on anxiety, as to whether the Games would go on or not could not have facilitated proper preparation.

- The athletes’ training environment has been severely impacted by the restrictions which have been imposed on personal movement, restrictions that are being tightened each week. So there were significant limitations to the realisation of the physical and mental well-being of the athletes, factors which are crucial to excellent performance.

- If one assumed that by some miraculous occurrence, the holocaust of this pandemic eases by the end of May (not likely by any stretch of the imagination, of course), and a decision made to hold the Games, the village would be home to approximately 20,000 athletes and officials from around 210 countries, including those, of course, that were very heavily hit by the pandemic. They would have to live together in the village for upwards of three or four weeks. Can you imagine the fear factor?

- They would have to eat together in a dining room capable of accommodating close to 5,000 people seated at any one time, travel together on buses each day, work out at the same venues daily, compete in the same events. This would not be an environment that is conducive to good mental preparedness for performing up to one’s optimum. This would also be a veritable breeding ground for new infections.

- The hundreds of thousands of spectators from all over the world that were expected to converge on Tokyo would have presented a challenge of different proportions. To try to screen this volume of people traffic for the virus on a daily basis would have been a logistics nightmare for the most efficient organising committee and significant, unwanted frustration for the spectators.

- The trains and public transport in general for spectators travelling to and from the events are normally jam-packed. Nothing more needs to be said of the potential for continued and renewed infection.

- The health and safety of all concerned was taken into consideration in coming to a decision. There was, in fact, no option but to postpone the Games.


I fully understand the financial plight of the athletes who will not be able to secure big sponsorship deals as a result of the postponement, as well as the loss of potential scholarships for those on the verge of securing these through various opportunities that would otherwise present themselves.

These are serious consequences that cannot be ignored. But good sense prevailed. Too much was stacked against the safe execution of the Games, and the IOC and the Tokyo Organising Committee exercised characteristic wisdom in arriving at this decision.

One hopes that other events that can generate funds for the athletes (Diamond League events in the case of track and field) can still take place from August onwards, which can cushion some of the serious financial losses athletes will experience.

I also fully understand the level of disruption in schedules already agreed to for 2021, that will occur because the Games was pushed back a year.

I firmly believe that good management discussions will take place to accommodate rescheduling of some events to facilitate holding the Olympic Games by July 23 next year.

Outright cancellation was out of the question. It is anticipated that Tokyo will have spent in excess of US$30 billion, conservatively, to host the Games. This must have been a major factor supporting postponement and not cancellation.

Finally, as someone who has been in the midst of it for seven consecutive Olympic Games, I genuinely believe that when the Games are held in 2021, they will be just as spectacular as those in Beijing and London, my last two stints as head of the Jamaica team.

- Pollster Don Anderson, CD, was vice-president of the Jamaica Olympic Association for 32 years, a member of Jamaica’s management team to seven consecutive Olympics from Seoul 1988, and head of delegation to five from Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing 2008, London 2012. Email feedback to