The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact is felt across the globe in countless ways. Now on the eve of the delayed beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, the virus looms large. Some say the Games should have been canceled, often citing the expense and health risks to the local population, athletes and support staff.
It should also be clear that some countries and athletes will have distinct pandemic advantages. Whereas most parts of the U.S., England and some other countries have reopened or are less affected in the months before the Games, the host country and many others face climbing infection rates and lockdowns.
Was it ever going to be fair?
To be clear, some countries’ athletic programs are also better-supported than others, and they will also likely focus on sports that are a strength. It is also a fact that some sports better lend themselves to pandemic training than others. Thus, training for outdoor sports like track and field may still be possible with lower potential risk. In contrast, contact sports like wrestling or boxing and team sports like rowing have a much harder time getting the necessary elite-level training.
The psychological factors
Regardless of where they live, Olympic athletes face unprecedented challenges, including honing a competitive edge for world-class level performance. According to athlete performance experts, the pandemic poses other unique challenges to these athletes:
- The lack of a clear date (and that any date could be canceled) made it hard to focus on a goal.
- There is a danger to their well-being.
- There are dangers to loved ones at home (particularly those in hard-hit countries).
- Some athletes contracted the virus and struggled to regain form, leading some to quit.
- Some are showing up, only to find out that they tested positive.
Some complain that the International Olympic Committee has not done enough for the athletes, citing the IOC forcing athletes to waive any right for damages and not having strict enough safety protocols.
Friendship and sporting excellence?
The Tokyo Games will take place in a country where it is reported that the majority of the people do not want them held. But the one refrain heard repeatedly is that there is too much invested not to have the Games held. The story of the Tokyo Games remains to be told: best case scenario, they will be remembered for athletic excellence overcoming adversity; or worst case scenario, they will be remembered as a COVID super-spreader event. We can all hope for the first scenario, and hold our breath that it is not the second.