By Liam Morgan |
It might not be as hard-hitting a headline, but the reality is the main concern over the impact of the coronavirus on Tokyo 2020 at this stage is not whether the Olympics take place. It is how athletes get there.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach fielded question after question on the virus, from various angles, and the nightmare scenario of canceling or postponing the Games during his press conference yesterday.
In front of a much larger audience than usual, Bach quipped he would not get tired repeating his refusal to get drawn into speculation on the possibility of this year’s Olympics being canceled or postponed because of the outbreak.
The focus throughout the press conference was on a hypothetical situation rather than the more pressing issue at hand – the effect of the COVID-19 virus on athletes’ attempts to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Of course, a cancelation or postponement – somehow odds-on with a British bookmaker – would remove the need for athletes to stress over qualification, but with Tokyo 2020 and the IOC insisting the event will go ahead as planned, providing them with every chance to book an Olympic place should be the highest priority for the IOC and International Federations (IFs).
At the time of writing, at least 10 events which offer some form of Olympic qualification – either directly or indirectly – have been postponed or canceled. In many cases, athletes are still waiting for new dates and locations of these competitions to be confirmed.
Given the growing fears and uncertainty in the Olympic Movement and beyond regarding the virus, which has killed over 3,300 people and infected more than 97,000 worldwide, more postponements and cancellations are likely to follow.
It is paramount, then, that the IOC, alongside IFs, reach the fair solutions they have promised to ensure athletes are not denied the chance to compete at the Games for reasons entirely beyond their control.
One such solution – if you can call it that – saw the International Swimming Federation (FINA) use results from the 2018 Asian Games, held nearly 20 months ago, to determine the continent’s Tokyo 2020 qualifiers in water polo, and we can only hope this rather unfair decision is not replicated by others.
Problems in numerous sports have begun to emerge in recent weeks.
The Asian wrestling qualifier for the Games was due to take place in Bishkek after being relocated from Xi’an, before Kyrgyzstan canceled the event because of the outbreak and no replacement host has yet been found.
Results from the Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi earlier this year could feasibly be used, but that event was also impacted by coronavirus and several countries missed the event.
A handful of athletes opted to skip the competition, instead prioritizing participating at the Olympic qualifier, a decision which could see them miss out on a hallowed Tokyo 2020 berth.
Qualification events, particularly in Asia, have been shifted from one place to another and even moved again in certain instances, wreaking havoc on athletes’ travel plans, training and preparation.
Athletes from a growing number of countries have also been hampered by restrictions on travel to countries worst hit by the virus, preventing them from competing and leading many to wonder whether they will even be able to take part at an Olympic qualifier, let alone the Games themselves.
Ever the optimists in the face of a crisis – some might say naively so – the IOC has promised to avoid this wherever possible.
One of the options for IFs could be to use ranking points, or implementing a new weighted system which takes into account a larger number of events, to determine who goes to Tokyo 2020.
Allocating wildcards to athletes may also have to be considered, particularly if they were on course to qualify for Tokyo 2020 before the virus prevented them from securing a place at the Games.
Using previous results of past events not linked to Olympic qualification, seemingly FINA’s preferred method, should surely be a last resort.
What if an athlete missed out on, say, the Asian Games through injury but is fit as a fiddle now and has performed consistently since?
Why should they not be able to compete at Tokyo 2020 for something that happened years ago?
Should extraordinary steps be required when it comes to Olympic qualification, the IOC and IFs must also balance a strong field of athletes with ensuring universality in their competition.
Sport, at its most basic, is about winning, but for many countries worldwide, it is the taking part at the Games that counts.
Among the potential solutions being considered by the IOC are an increase of quota places for sports worst affected by the outbreak and awarding Olympic places to athletes who would “most likely” have booked a Tokyo 2020 berth if they could have taken part at a qualification event.
“We may have to consult with IFs with regard to quota allocations if there would be a case where athletes have been prevented from taking part in the qualification process,” Bach said.
Bach acknowledged this will pose challenges to plenty of IFs, many of whom are hardly world leaders in making the right decision.
While the IFs who have been forced to cancel or postpone Tokyo 2020 qualifiers due to the virus are worthy of sympathy – they can be blamed for a spate of issues in the Olympic world, but the coronavirus is not one of them – the system will nevertheless have failed if even one athlete is prevented from competing at the Games because of it.
And that lingering concern for athletes fearful of missing out far outweighs fears over whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will happen at all.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.