Should IOC just cancel the Olympics?

Malaysia’s diving star Pandelela Rinong has been keeping herself busy despite the Movement Control Order imposed on March 18 to stem the spike in Covid-19 cases.

Pandelela is among the few who have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The order has pretty much disrupted the Sarawakian’s routine but she is taking it in her stride.

“Okay lah,” was Pandelela’s immediate reaction when asked how her two days of staying at home have been.

Just like her peers, Pandelela – who earned podium finishes at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics – is on ‘active rest’.

Instead of the intense workout observed during their daily training, the national athletes will keep themselves active by carrying light weights or having a quick swim – without the supervision of their coaches and minus the motivation from their team mates.

“I still keep myself active. But we must respect the order and stay indoors,” added Pandelela who is among the 12 Malaysian athletes who have qualified for this year’s Olympics.

While the next 11 days of staying indoors would prove to be challenging for some, calls by athletes around the world to postpone the Tokyo Games intensify. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and organisers of the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled July 24 to Aug 9, insist the show will go on.

Britain’s heptathlon world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, expressed her displeasure on Twitter: “The IOC advice ‘encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best they can’ with the Olympics only four months away, but the government legislation is enforcing isolation at home with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed.”

“I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible”.

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Reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi was quoted as saying: “We all want Tokyo to happen but what is the Plan B if it does not happen? Knowing about a possible option has a major effect on my training because I may be taking risks now that I would not take if I knew there was also the possibility of a Plan B.”

“We have to decide whether to risk our health and continue training in the current environment,” the Greek added.

The fear is real as to date there are some 219,000 Covid-19 cases worldwide, resulting in close to 9,000 deaths. In Malaysia, there are 790 cases with two deaths recorded.

Within the Malaysian sporting fraternity, there are those who hope that the International Olympic Committee calls off the Games. This, they say, will ensure athletes are better prepared for the Summer Games and are not exposed to any health threats.

Pandelela was rather diplomatic in her answer.

“I think whatever decision by the IOC will come with consequences to everyone. For now, I just hope for the best.”

But there are others in Malaysia who wish the Games are called off.

Modern Olympics has only been cancelled three times – in 1916, 1940 and 1944 – due to the two world wars. Two years after the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, the Olympics was held in Antwerp, Belgium while the last edition held in Brazil was not disrupted despite the Zika virus.

“But today everything is disrupted. Training has been called off and competitions postponed. The pressure is on those trying to make the final cut. And if they make it, are they truly prepared for the biggest sporting event of their lives?” pointed out an official who spoke on condition on anonymity.

“Deep down, many hope that the IOC postpones the Games so that we all start from zero. It’s a worldwide concern.”

Even broadcasters in Malaysia have yet to reveal their Olympics coverage, casting more doubt if the Games will indeed take place despite the repeated assurances by the organisers.

Organising a multi-sporting event is a big deal to any host nation due to the spillover from the event. Japan is set to lose billions of dollars if the Olympics is postponed – a massive blow to the Asian nation given the gloomy economic climate. Changing the dates may cause massive disruption to the nation’s coffers and calendar of events.

As for now, the Malaysian athletes – like their peers around the world – will just have to give their best despite the circumstances as they prepare for the Olympics.