In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the entire world, it looks like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will do that right thing and postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. As an Olympian myself, I do not take my statements lightly, but with the entire global community facing a pandemic (one of which we have never seen before), it is about time the IOC stepped up and made the tough decision to postpone the Olympic Games. This decision will no doubt have lasting ramifications but to not postpone the Games could have been disastrous.
Taking a macro perspective and with the Olympic Games just over 4 months away, it is helpful to consider the following. We will use the sport of track and field as our case study, as it is second only to swimming in the number of Olympic medals won for Team USA. In the United States, the sport of track and field relies heavily on the collegiate system. Track and field athletes rely on early season competitions hosted by universities, and many workout on university tracks and use their training facilities. With the spread of COVID-19, the NCAA and most institutions have simply canceled the rest of the Winter and Spring seasons. This means, at least for the next couple of months, track and field athletes will have nowhere to compete. With states instituting mandatory curfews, “shelter in place” orders, and a host of other parameters to curtail the spread of this virus, there are few places for athletes to train or compete domestically. International competitions have been canceled for the next couple of months at least, not that traveling to other countries would be advisable in the current climate; there is a very real risk of being quarantined in another country should COVID-19 continue to spread.
Even if the Olympics were allowed to continue as planned if the spread of COVID-19 were somehow contained or controlled, bringing everyone together from around the world, secluding them in the Olympic Village together, and then sending them back to their home country could potentially reignite the spread of the virus all over again. At present, there is simply too much risk in hosting the Olympic Games, and for these reasons postponing the Olympic Games makes sense.
The IOC has currently given itself a four-week deadline to decide on what postponement actually means. Until then, the entire world will await their decision. In the meantime, the athletes’ future hangs in the balance with the continued uncertainty.