Historically, it takes a war to postpone or cancel the modern Olympic Games. Since 1896, there have been three cancellations – the 1916 Berlin games (World War I); and the 1940 and 1944 games (World War II) in Japan, then Helsinki, and, for the latter games, London and Italy.
That’s a pretty high standard. There have been Olympics in some pretty bad times from the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Germany in 1936 to the post-Afghanistan invasion by the Soviet Union Olympics of 1980, which the United States and some of its Western allies boycotted.
Tuesday’s announcement by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he and the International Olympic Committee have come to an agreement to postpone the Summer Games to the summer of 2021 at the earliest came as no big surprise under the circumstances. But it should serve as a reminder that the coronavirus outbreak will not be over in a matter of days or even weeks: The Olympics were not set to open in Tokyo until July 24.
“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” the parties announced in a joint statement. That is a lovely thought. And it certainly is not the first time that world leaders looked to the world’s largest sporting event to salve global wounds.
Athletes like Baltimore-area native Olivia Gruver, a champion pole-vaulter, are likely disappointed. World-class skills can be a perishable commodity. But they, perhaps better than most, understand the limits of the human body and the risks conducting the games would have presented to everyone involved including their families. Meanwhile, Japan is looking at a major economic blow. The Olympics had been expected to bring more than 600,000 visitors to the island nation, and preparations already cost it more than $12bn.
President Donald Trump is already given to comparing the battle against Covid-19 as a military conflict positioning himself as a wartime president. In a sense, the delay of the Olympics supports that narrative.
But the Olympics will rise again, just as the US and other nations will emerge from these days and weeks of quarantine. People will get back to work. Schools will eventually reopen. The economy will bounce back.
But there’s a lesson in sports about health and injury. Athletes who have serious injury and try to get back in the game prematurely often cause a far worse outcome, turning a sprained knee, for example, into a candidate for surgery. Patience is as much a part of competition as motivation. Coaches often call this “playing smart.” Sometimes, you accept short-term setbacks in order to achieve long-term gain.
Preventing hospitals and other medical providers from being overwhelmed by Covid-19 victims, that’s the goal here, that’s the finish line. The sacrifice has been significant but not yet to the point where it outweighs that higher purpose of saving lives.
Here’s the best part of the Olympic postponement: It wasn’t about politics. Organisers simply recognised that this was not the time. The risks were not worth the reward. Reason won the day. – Tribune News Service
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