PARIS, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) — March 24, 2020, is destined to leave a mark on the 124-year-old history of the modern Olympics. It was on that fateful Tuesday that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo organizers agreed to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still torturing the world.
For the first time, the Olympic Games failed to take place as scheduled because of a non-war-related reason.
“With the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are all living in much uncertainty. At this point in time, this uncertainty is far from subsiding. We are all only beginning to understand the far-reaching consequences of the coronavirus crisis around the world,” IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in a letter in late April to the Olympic Movement entitled “Olympism and Corona.”
The keyword is “uncertainty.” When we look back at the end of this chaotic year like no other, the “uncertainty” caused by the coronavirus health crisis remains one of the biggest challenges the Olympic Movement, and the whole sports world has faced and will face for a long time in the future.
AN UNPREDICTABLE PANDEMIC SITUATION
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all sectors of society as we knew it, and sports are no exception. On most occasions, the key to sports is no longer in the hands of the sportspeople themselves, but the sanitary departments.
Such as the postponed French Open in September, the spectators’ limitation per day was reduced from a planned 20,000 to 11,500, then to 5,000, and eventually to 1,000 only three days before the main draw, in line with the government’s anti-COVID-19 protocol policy.
As the chief of the governing body of the Olympic Movement, a question Bach has been asked again and again is about the future of the Tokyo Olympic Games – whether we will have it and if yes, how it will be organized.
For the first part of the question, we already have an answer: “yes”, but for the second, the answer remains uncertain with many details yet to be decided in the coming months regarding the pandemic situation.
Yuhei Inoue, a Japanese sports scholar from Manchester Metropolitan University thought of the Tokyo Olympic Games in terms of the social impact for the country and the whole world; especially under the circumstances related to the coronavirus.
“By successfully hosting an Olympic Games in a safe and innovative manner despite challenges associated with the coronavirus, Japan and Tokyo can show to the world how capable they are as a country and city and hence enhance their external images among the international community.
“Full recovery from the pandemic requires more than the mere implementation of economic policies, such as economic stimulus packages. The inspiration and shared identity engendered by the Olympic Games will serve as a key resource that helps people and communities to collectively work toward the common goal of recovering from the current pandemic, and witnessing this will allow the global public to further appreciate the significance sport and the Olympic Games have in society,” Yuhei said.
A HARD TIME FOR ALL
For Alfons Hormann, the president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), one of his biggest jobs since March has been to seek financial support from the government as a report from DOSB showed that Germany’s Olympic Movement could suffer an economic loss up to one billion euros.
It is also a common story in other parts of the world. From International Sports Federations (IFs) to National Olympic Committees (NOCs), to individuals, everyone is struggling in the current situation.
For most IFs, the COVID-19 pandemic has already resulted in huge financial losses as their income from gate ticket sales, TV rights and commercial sponsorships have all been cut sharply.
The postponement of Tokyo 2020 also meant that many IFs couldn’t receive the revenue share of the Olympic Games from the IOC as before, which has made the situation even worse.
“It’s been a turbulent ride. Last summer we were on cloud nine after our men’s and women’s teams qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Last month, however, our contracts were terminated due to major funding cuts, meaning the end of the England 7s program as we know it,” a tweet from the England Rugby sevens team reflected the struggle that many athletes around the world are facing.
The lack of money, as well as the lockdown policies in some countries and regions, have made regular training unavailable for many athletes.
CHANGE OR BE CHANGED: THE IOC ACCELERATES REFORM
The current situation means the IOC needs to play its role as the leader of the world Olympic Movement and Bach and his colleagues are shouldering this responsibility.
The IOC in November announced that it would increase the budget of Olympic Solidarity for the period 2021 to 2024 by 16 percent, which is now up to 590 US dollars, to further strengthen its support to athletes, NOCs, and Continental Associations of NOCs.
Meanwhile, around 100 million US dollars have been provided to aid IFs and NOCs by the end of July and another 150 million could be paid to NOCs through the TOP Programme by the end of this year.
Besides financial support, the IOC is accelerating its own reform, which started in 2014 when Olympic Agenda 2020 was adopted. A report from the IOC in December said that 85 percent of the Olympic Agenda 2020 has been achieved in the past six years.
“The motto when we launched Olympic Agenda 2020, and which is written on the wall at Olympic House: ‘Change or be changed,’ is in this crisis-time more relevant than ever,” Bach said.
Built on the three pillars of credibility, sustainability, and youth, the IOC is trying to apply these ideas to the upcoming Olympic events. And we can see that Paris 2024 has reduced the number of beds required for the Olympic Village from 17,000 to 14,000 to cut the costs, and introduced breaking, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing into the sports program as a move to embrace the youth.
Adjusting accordingly with flexible and innovative measures, the preparation work for Beijing 2022 is also well on track toward honoring its promise five years ago when the city was awarded the Games. A milestone is to be reached as all competition venues will be completed by the end of this year, despite twists and turns aplenty.
Although uncertainty remains, what can be certain is that “none of us will be able to sustain every single initiative or event that we were planning before this crisis hit.”
Just as Bach wrote in his letter to the Olympic Movement: “this pandemic has affected and will affect all areas of society, including all of us in the world of sport, significantly… If we draw the right lessons from the current situation, we can shape our future to even strengthen the relevance of our Olympic Movement in the world.”