“Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
– The Fundamental Principals of the Olympic Movement, item one excerpt.
Of all the sports thrown into chaos by the global coronavirus pandemic, the biggest of them all – with supposedly the most high-minded ideals on social responsibility – is not yet ready to abandon Tokyo 2020.
The Olympic movement has long been a law unto itself, but its mute response to any suggestion of a deferral of this year’s Games, due to start on July 24, is now starting to split nations.
Most suggestions for a delay – including a signature stream of consciousness from US President Donald Trump – has canvassed a one-year delay.
But so far, the Tokyo organising committee is standing firm, with a senior official on Saturday telling Kyodo News that postponing or canceling the Games was not yet on the agenda.
Despite some nations now demanding the International Olympic Committee set an example it is apparently sticking to its own timeline of early May – just two months before the Games are due to start.
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the one making the final decision. We will firmly continue our efforts to host the event in July,” Toshiaki Endo, vice-president of the committee said.
As he spoke the Olympic torch continued its travels through Japan, drawing hundreds of spectators despite calls for social distancing and for people to avoid major events.
The flame is currently in the 2011 Tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, in what organisers call a ‘recovery flame’ tour before an official welcome in Fukushima on March 26.
With the nuclear accident that unfolded at Fukushima it seems beyond bizarre for the International Olympic Committee to push ahead with a ceremonial event that could expose local people to a devastating illness.
Given Japan’s methodical society, which prizes health and good order, it remains to be seen whether the government of Shinzo Abe is ready to take the lead in shutting down the biggest show in sport.
As the virus spreads around the world, Norway, Colombia and Slovenia have all demanded the Games be rescheduled in line with the suspension of other major sporting events.
On Saturday those nations were joined by USA Swimming – breaking ranks with the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee which had asked athletes to continue their preparations amid the coronavirus chaos.
“We have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down,” USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey wrote.
“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritise everyone’s health and safety, and appropriately recognise the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations.”
Australia’s peak swimming body has also expressed reservations, but stopped short of calling for the Games to be postponed, despite next month’s national swim titles being abandoned.
“We absolutely want the Games to go on, we are preparing for that,” Swimming Australia chief executive Leigh Russell said last week.
“But we’re also acknowledging that we want a level playing field for everyone – and right now around the world, we are holding concern that people can’t achieve that.”
There’s little doubt the virus panic is causing disruption to all walks of life, but sportspeople are particularly affected in their preparation.
UK Athletics chairman Nic Coward believes the “stress” caused by the pandemic must lead to a delayed Olympics.
“We thought the facilities would be able to remain open,” Coward told the UK’s Daily Telegraph. “Now they can’t. They are closing. And that is creating stress.
“I think that will have to lead to the conclusion that the Games must be (postponed); that the decision has to be made that the Olympic and Paralympic Games can’t take place as currently scheduled.
I’ve got no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that Tokyo will host an amazing Olympics. The issue right now is people and the stress.”
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told the New York Times on Friday: “We don’t know what the situation will be.
“Of course we are considering different scenarios, but we are contrary to many other sports organisations or professional leagues in that we are four and a half months away from the games.”
Only last week the Australian Olympic Committee doubled down on the Games going ahead, telling the ABC that it was “focused on the planning and preparation of the Australian team to the Tokyo Games, for July 24 opening.”
AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said at the time that “the AOC does not live in a bubble.”
“There is a global health crisis. We recognise that people are suffering, people are sick, people are losing their jobs, businesses are struggling, amid enormous community uncertainty,” Carroll said.
“Things are changing every day. The IOC, like all of us, are basing their planning on what they know and are receiving the best advice.”
Carroll said that the IOC is basing its decision on meetings of a taskforce, which is meeting daily with the World Health Organisation, with regular conference calls keeping the Australian team informed.
As the deaths start to mount and much of Australian life grinding to a halt the Olympic bubble is getting smaller by the day.
It may be time for the IOC to live up to its own ideals when responding to the coronavirus – to set a good example, take social responsibility and show respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.