Column: Time Tokyo 2020 Cut Its Losses

The dark opening days of January 2021 have unfortunately brought one definite case to mind, it’s time to cancel the 2020 Olympic Games.

I’m not talking about the cancel culture of 2020, but to go against the words of the great Avery Brundage, the games cannot go on.

The news on Thursday morning last that Tokyo will now face covid-19 restrictions similar to those in Ireland, may have sharpened the minds on how viable the 32nd Olympiad already postponed 12 months are?

While the July 2021 start date is still some six months away, in the quest of vacations and covid spikes, unfortunately there’s too long a road forward for Tokyo 2021, because you see in the Olympic games, “it’s not the taking part” that counts.

Just as covid was sinking its wicked teeth into life last March, the Olympic boxing qualifying tournament in London was one of the first or last sporting fallers to the virus.

Four months were to run to that Olympic Games and boxing like so many other sports have not yet been able to garner their full quota of qualifiers.

Now; nearly 12 months later, sports empty qualifier list persists. Amateur Boxing has been unable to resume, never mind complete its qualification programme.

While not all sports rely on straight forward qualification, for instance athletics uses a set qualifying standard and a ranking there after.

Currently seven Irish athletes have attained the Q mark, while a further 10, including Thomas Barr (fourth in 2016 Olympic final) are inside the qualifying ranking.

A further 10 are just outside the qualifiers albeit very close to qualifying, Andrew Coscoran is ranked 48th in the 1500 metres, 45 qualify.

While it is heart breaking for all these athletes, for instance Fionnuala McCormack is looking to make it to her fourth Olympic Games and many more would have woken up on January 1 2020 and believed this is their best chance to become an Olympian.

Again they may have awoken on January 1 2021 and focused on the task ahead, the famous moments of walking behind the Ireland flag at the opening ceremony or competing in an Olympic arena.

Although this January had an added hesitancy of the unexpected. However away from the positivity of the Olympic movement’s message, the fear of reality, that the games may not go ahead.

“It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part”, must be the most false statement in the history of sport.

“It’s not the taking part” is engraved in every Olympian’s mind, the event which runs with the motto Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, higher, stronger.

The human side of me breaks for the likes of Jenny Egan, the canoeist whose life has been dedicated to the obsession of landing a shot at the Olympic Games.

Though unfortunately the covid reality, again is due to kick in. Prior to Christmas the organisers announced that athlete’s would have to leave the Olympic village immediately after their event.

Gone are the days of being an Olympian, experiencing the other sports that take place and supporting your fellow team Ireland members. No one goes to the Olympics as an individual as such, but as a team. The Irish team look to live with and support each other.

Covid protocols designed in December changed that, then Covid changed over Christmas! As if covid-19 handed the Olympics a bag of coal for being a bold child, this time in the UK and South African variants.

A new challenge! That has already called time on so many sports.

Level 5 restrictions in Ireland have all but paused Irish sport. Yes elite sport – meaning the Irish Olympic team have an exception, but that exception comes with a heavy price.

If for instance Athletics Ireland created an elite only event to try and help messers Barr, Coscoran et-al to qualify for the games, some international competitors would no doubt be needed, just to help the home grown guys over the line, however the requirement for covid-19 tests throws pressure on people, arriving in Ireland and travelling abroad.

It is just simply unfair to run the Olympic Games without giving everyone a fair chance of qualifying.

The elite only model the games were chasing for so long, must not be allowed flourish in this time of pandemic.

If the games itself goes ahead, it will happen behind closed doors, away from spectators. That’s if it can go ahead!

The 40-year curse seems to have struck once more, 1940 Tokyo cancelled due to World War II. 1980 Moscow – the US boycott and now 2020 Tokyo postponed at best.

Like any distance runner who heads out on their training run and realises today is going very badly, they are told to stop and cut their losses.

This time the Olympics needs the same advice.