Will COVID-19 diminish Japan 2020 Olympic Games?

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Asks Tony Nezianya

About two years ago, it could not have been conceivable that an Olympic Games would be postponed but that happened because of the novel Coronavirus, otherwise COVID-19 pandemic.

It was also unimaginable that the postponed Games would ever get ahead without spectators? Again this is going to happen when the Games open in Tokyo on July 23.

This is one glamorous event that prides itself as the best in rallying humanity together; no doubt a people-oriented sporting spectacle; it is one World event that keeps the crowds yelling for as long as the Games would last.

It is one showpiece at which the World stands still to savour the best athletes and best performances that they have taken 4 years in preparation for from the date of the last Games. The last Games, the Rio 2016 Games were staged in Brazil.

People from all walks of life usually take holidays to be part of the event as tourists and spectators at such Games as the Olympics. And the Japan Games held a lot of promise, with excellent venues and Information and Technology (ICT) driven Games.

They all rally round to communicate with one another in peace and sparkle in line with the ideals of the founders of the Ancient Olympics.

It is from the ashes of the ancient Games that the ideals that the modern Olympics Games were revived by, the Frenchman Baron Pierre De Coubertin and his followers founded the Games of the modern era in 1896.

This is one period in the history of the ancient Greeks that they invoke an Olympic Truce, “ekecheiria’’, otherwise a ceasefire; a temporary peace initiative when the ever warring Greeks City states set aside their wars to engage in the ritual of competing in the Games.

It is also the same ideals that motivated the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to meet the World Leaders at the UN in 1992 to seek a revalidation of the concept.

The UN through its resolution 48/11 of 25 October 1993 as well as the UN Millennium Declaration relating to world peace and security adopted this. About three years later the UN established the International Olympic Truce Foundation and the International Olympic Truce Centre in cooperation with Greece.

It was against this background that World was taken by storm when Coronavirus, otherwise COVID-19 wrecked havoc in its wake.

For some reason, yet to be explained to the World, the killer disease started out from Wuhan, China leaving in its trail deaths that soon engulfed the rest of the World, moving from country to country.

It was promptly branded a `pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), when the frequency of spread and infections went beyond the various borders to assume epidemic proportions unimaginable in recent history.

At the heat of the spread of the infections countries shutdown their borders to curtail massive spread. This eventually led to complete physical shutdown of economies, accompanied by enforced restrictions in movements within countries.

With better knowledge and rollout of vaccines to curtail the spread, countries began to re-open the closed borders, thereby encouraging free interactions once more.

It was against this background that the Japanese Government, the hosts of the rescheduled Games, introduced a state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo for the duration of the Olympics in a bid to curb the rate of spread of COVID-19 pandemic and contain resurgence.

This also means that no spectator will be present at the venues of the Games in Tokyo and some immediate prefectures.

The Prime Minister Yoshihito Suga explained that the city would have to be under the toughest restrictions from July 12 until August 22 –covering period of the Games and the Paralympics.

Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa, at a news conference also confirmed that this means there will be no fans present at venues in prefectures under a state of emergency.

Seiko Hashimoto, President of Tokyo 2020 apologised to the spectators: saying she was “sorry’’ for the ticket holders, who would no longer attend the Games.

“It is extremely regrettable that the Games will be staged in a very limited manner in the face of the spread of the novel Coronavirus infections.’’

It is perhaps because of the unpredictable nature of ill-health that the organisers of Tokyo 2020 organisers were compelled to postpone the Games by a year from dates in 2020 to 2021.

Even though the Games were postponed by a year, it was decided to retain the title as 2020 Games and run from July 23 to Aug. 8.

The decision to place a caveat on spectators stemmed from fresh spikes in COVID-19 infections in Tokyo and on the day that the IOC President Thomas Bach arrived in the city.

This new policy was agreed on at a meeting attended by Bach and representatives from the IOC, the International Paralympics Committee, Tokyo 2020, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese Government.

In reaction to the ban on spectators, a former Nigerian International Olympian, based in the U.S., Innocent Egbunike remarked that such a move, though desirable, will have a negative impact on the Games.

The former Quarter-Miler, however, added: “during my active years competing, I never bothered about the crowd. I was always focused on competing against the stop watch’’.

According to him, while not underestimating the negative impact of the decision on the Games, I agree that the crowds make the Games and their absence from venues will bring negativity to such an event.

“The success rate of the event will be severely limited because of the absence of the people who help to create the right atmosphere.

“The presence of the crowd is inspiring. It helps the performing athletes to feel the crowd. It propels some athletes to go the extra mile to reach beyond their original targets.

“While the older athletes will feel it the more, the newer ones may not feel that much since they have yet to experience the crowds.’’

Egbunike whose Nigerian National record of 44.17 seconds in 400 metres set in Rome World Championship in 1987 is still standing said the absence of the crowd may not bring the best out of the athletes.

“This is the time for good coaches to go beyond their calling on the physical side of the preparation to do a lot more mental and spiritual preparation for their athletes.

“Good coaches can exploit their cordial relations with the athletes to work on their resilience to stimulate their interest.

Dr Lanre Glover, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) in an interview said:

“This is no Olympic Games the way I know it. The Games are a family affair, where families take a holiday to attend the Games, mill around the venues mixing and catching fun. It is a festival of sorts.

“The presence of crowds in itself motivates and inspires the athletes. I don’t see how athletes can perform optimally. I won’t want even if I am given a chance. Olympic Games without spectators are not it.

“It goes against the spirit and letters of the Games. Sports are about people. These Games are a shadow of what I know of the major event like the ultimate of festivals like the Olympic Games,’’ noted the Life Member of the Nigeria Triathlon Union (NTU).

Wale Oladunjoye, President of the NTU said: “the Olympic Games can never be the same again following the Coronavirus.

“The absence of spectators on the stands will rob of its intrinsic value. Such a major sports spectacle to go on without spectators will rob the athletes of their motivation to aim at putting out their best performance.

“The virus has no doubt eroded the value in the Games. This is all because of the carelessness of the Chinese from an obscure City of Wuhan.

“This has adversely impacted businesses that support the growth and development of sports. The human elements in the Games are gone,’’ he lamented.

Whatever the situation with pandemics, the Games are almost certain to get ahead on the scheduled dates, but previous glamour associated with events of this magnitude would be in short supply.

It will be on the World that the Games have been held in spite of dangers posed to the World by this debilitating ill-less that created uncertainties. (MOI)

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