Will the postponed 2020 Olympics, originally slated to start today in Tokyo, be able to run as rescheduled in July 2021?
Even with the Games still a year away, the question about whether they can even be held keeps coming up as the Covid pandemic continues.
Numerous competitions in every sport, including equestrian, have been cancelled this season and many athletes still are unable to train properly or travel because of restrictions imposed by many countries and jurisdictions.
Despite that, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach last week emphasized the IOC is “fully committed” to the Games being held next July. He pointed out that it would have been easier to call off the Games than postpone them, but stressed, “We are there to organize the Games, not to cancel them.”
However, a new survey showed that less than one in four Japanese citizens are in favor of staging the Olympics and Paralympics as scheduled. That follows a slightly more favorable survey published in June, which found a little more than half of the Japanese people didn’t want the Olympics to proceed, likely due to fears there will be a second wave of Covid. Of those surveyed who were against the Games taking place in 2021, 75.3 per cent believe Covid will not be contained by the time of the Games.
But seemingly contradicting that stance, the Olympics got a boost from voters earlier this month when Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike ‒ a proponent of the Games ‒ enjoyed a landslide re-election with 59.7 percent of the turnout. She topped 21 other candidates, including Taro Yamomoto, who said he would prioritize cancelling the Games if he were victorious.
Although the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee president said yesterday the Games could not be held in 2021 if the pandemic situation continues as it is now, he quickly added, “”I don’t think this situation will last for another year.”
In an interview yesterday with Japanese broadcaster NHK, Yoshiro Mori said he was hopeful things would improve, suggesting a vaccine is the key to holding the Olympics.
The often-repeated argument that it would take an effective vaccine for the Games to be held has moved from the realm of conjecture this week. News that an experimental vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials raised hopes it could be in use by the end of this year or the beginning of 2021.
More than 150 possible vaccines are in various stages of development. U.S. pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and China’s CanSino Biologics also reported positive responses for their candidates on Monday.
Meanwhile, methods of treating the virus are advancing, with several options ranging from the reasonably-priced steroid dexamethasone, which is quite familiar to equestrians, to Gilead Science’s more expensive Remdesivir.
Although the 2021 Olympics will be a “simplified” version of the Games, with Bach contending they would be “frugal,” every competition slated for 2020 will be able to run next year, with all the venues and even the athletes’ village ready to go.
Bach hasn’t detailed what “simplified means,” but was asked if that would involve a cutback in the opening and closing ceremonies, as has been suggested in the past. He pointed out the opening ceremony is the time for the host country to showcase itself, its culture and its hospitality.
In addition, “it is the opportunity to present the Olympic values and make this a unique event for all the athletes who are participating and for more than one billion people around the globe who are watching it. I am sure the organizing committee will find the right balance to have an opening and closing ceremony which reflects this experience and at the same time, is adapted to the hopefully, by then, post-Corona world.”
Organizers are taking into account how to handle the Covid situation if the Games are a go next July but the virus is still a problem, with measures to be tested in early 2021.
“We don’t know what’s around the corner,” IOC vice-president John Coates of Australia said during a virtual press conference following last week’s executive board meeting. For that reason, he was pleased that preparations are under way now “rather than waiting for the end of the year.”
His comments were echoed by IOC member Richard Pound of Canada, who said that in 2021, “We simply don’t know what the conditions will be.” The fate of the Games will be “a fact-based decision which will take into account the health and safety of everyone concerned,” he added.
Will Connell, the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s director of sport, finds himself in the same challenging place as others in his position around the world as they are “dealing constantly with `What if?’” For instance, “travel restrictions are changing day-by-day.” As he put it, “You’ve got everything facing in the right direction ‒ and then something else happens.”
What does all the uncertainty mean for spectators who want to attend the Games? If they can overcome travel restrictions and quarantines, will they be able to watch in person?
“It’s too early to tell,” said Bach, noting a sea of empty seats is “not what we want. We would like to see a stadium full of enthusiastic fans and to give them all the opportunity to live through the Olympic experience and support the athletes.”
It is to be hoped that the Olympics won’t go the route of the New York Mets. As the baseball team’s season starts Friday, July 24th, fans who paid $86 had their pictures on cardboard cutouts put in the lower-level seats at Citi Field. The live people will just have to watch from home.
If the Games can’t be held, said U.S. Olympic show jumping coach and 1976 team member Robert Ridland, “It would be so sad that I won’t contemplate it. I consider that an unlikely event.
“The Olympics have been in my blood forever. It’s something we all at this level of the sport live for. I can’t imagine a quadrennium when we don’t have an Olympics, especially knowing what the city of Tokyo and country of Japan put into those venues we saw [at the test event] a year before the  Olympics. I think somehow the world will have righted itself in time to have the Olympics.”