Analysis | The Hockey Paper
As Tokyo organisers continue to portray an upbeat approach to the 2020 Games going ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic, the optimism has begun to infiltrate its own camp.
International Olympic Committee member Hayley Wickenheiser said this week that plans for the Tokyo Games – due to start on July 24 – to go ahead are “insensitive and irresponsible.” She added: “This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics.”
There’s more. An opinion piece in Wednesday’s New York Times, with the headline ‘Cancel. The. Olympics’ was equally forthright.
Jules Boykoff, a political scientist who studies the Olympics, wrote: “While sports can create an escape hatch from the grit and grind of daily life, there is no escaping the fact that the coronavirus pandemic presents an extraordinary challenge that cannot be overcome with mere platitudes and prayers. Pressing ahead with the Tokyo Games means creating a massive, potentially perilous petri dish. For the sake of global public health, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games should be canceled.”
The cancellation of events, Olympic qualifiers, test events and more – some weeks in advance – has caused a serious logistical headache for federations, governing bodies and, of course, the athletes. No events. No training.
Hockey is one of the lucky sports in that qualification has already been completed. But the dearth of events leading up to Tokyo means that, if the games go ahead, countries will be scrambling for warm-up games and four nations tournaments prior to Japan. Even then, some countries may not be able to travel.
Take the host nation Japan, whose men’s side last played an international match in November. They were due to travel to Holland to play the Dutch next week. But with almost every country entering into lock out mode, travel or a change of plans have made this impossible.
On the women’s side, Japan were due to face Ireland, China, Great Britain and South Africa in a hockey series in Durban starting on Thursday.
On the plus side, it has been reported that Japan’s central training base in Kakamigahara has no reported outbreaks of coronavirus.
The downside? It means potentially preparing for the Games at home and then going straight to an Olympics, without an international tournament feel for months. Forget faster, higher, stronger. The quality would surely be poor across the men’s and women’s Pools.
In a recent poll by Japanese agency Kyodo News, nearly 70 percent of people do not expect the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held. Meanwhie, senior figures in British sport are, according to The Times, “90 per cent certain” that the Games will be postponed.
The IOC has until May 26 – two months out from the Games – to delay the Olympics. And the latest coming out of Tokyo hints that this may indeed be the case. It is surely the right call to make now.
To finish with Wickenheiser, a former ice hockey Olympian, who even expanded on her criticism in later tweets rather than back down.
“Should the Olympics be cancelled? No one knows at this point and that IS my point,” she wrote. “To say for certain they will go ahead is an injustice to the athletes training and global population at large. We need to acknowledge the unknown.”
Subscribe to our print or digital edition for the bigger picture in 2020. Find out which subscription suits you best. Sign up now!