World Athletics President Seb Coe on Sunday added his voice to calls for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reschedule the Tokyo Olympic Games owing to fears over the rapid spread and devastating effects of the deadly coronavirus.
On the same day, Canada and Australia separately said they would not send teams to Tokyo should the Games go ahead as scheduled (from July 24 to August 9) due to concerns over the safety of their athletes and officials following the Covid-19 pandemic.
“World Athletics welcomes discussions with the IOC to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and wrote to the IOC earlier today to relay this feedback from its Area Presidents, Council and athletes,” a statement from World Athletics said on Sunday evening.
“We stand ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date,” the brief statement concluded.
The statement aside, President Coe, himself a former Olympic track champion, had previously stressed the need for the IOC to shift the dates as the Covid-19 crisis has already wreaked havoc on the training schedules of athletes in severely hit nations, like Spain and Italy, who will be thoroughly disadvantaged when the Tokyo starter’s gun blasts off.
Meanwhile, the IOC’s Executive Board has ruled out the cancellation of the Games altogether, saying they were considering various options, but maintaining cancelling the Games would “destroy the Olympic dreams of 11,000 athletes.”
We, therefore, should know, inside the next four weeks, the fate of the world’s biggest sporting showcase.
And the sooner the better, so that athletes can adjust their schedules accordingly and avoid peaking too early, or too late, in this important yet uncertain season.
The confusion created by the indecision over the Tokyo dates is perhaps best exemplified by the Ethiopian situation.
While the Ethiopian Olympic Committee, under the leadership of legislator Ashebir Woldegiyorgis, has called on athletes to assemble in an Addis Ababa hotel to launch Olympic preparations, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation – headed by distance running legend Derartu Tulu – is against the move citing a government directive outlawing assembly or public gatherings to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Thus, anything short of postponement will be catastrophic, given the global apprehension generated by Covid-19.
Kenya too should prepare for the devastating effects of the pandemic on our sports calendar.
Already, the eagerly anticipated European Tour Kenyan Open Golf Championship, initially scheduled to tee off just over a week ago, is in the backburner while, most certainly, Nairobi’s season-opening May 2 World Athletics Continental Tour meeting will have to be pushed to later in the year.
Also threatened is the World Athletics Under-20 Championships (July 7-12) and the Safari Rally, which is programmed to make its comeback onto the World Rally Championships roster from July 16 to 19.
With the global airspace virtually in lockdown mode, the ripple effects will be huge and even after the coronavirus is dispensed with, these key events will be too soon to inspire confidence in unbridled global travel.
But the almost certain rescheduling of these events shouldn’t mean we let our guard down.
Renovation works at the Moi International Sports Centre and Nyayo National Stadium must go ahead as planned, and in full steam.
In fact, the national and county governments need to pay extra attention to maintaining and upgrading stadiums and sports facilities that will certainly come under intense pressure shortly.
Because our sportsmen and women will still be “quarantined” within our borders even long after the global Covid-19 situation eases, and will have to use local resources for training as we expect global travel restrictions to continue for a while and the international sporting calendar to take a severe beating.
The sporting world has already lost a colossus, former Real Madrid President Lorenzo Sanz, to Covid-19 while several sporting superstars have contracted the coronavirus.
My prayer is that our stars stay active, even in isolation, and follow the Ministry of Health guidelines to keep the deadly virus at bay.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has done impeccably well to steady the ship and steer us across turbulent waters, and we must heed his daily doses of advice in order to safely dock and resume our normal sports programmes ashore, unscathed.
The health of our people is more important than the gold, silver and bronze on the Tokyo podiums, and that’s why the sooner the IOC reschedules the Games the better.
Tokyo has done an amazing job in preparing for the big show, and the best reward international sports federations can give the great people of Japan is to rejig their calendars to allow for a rescheduled Olympic Games.
Losses of over Sh4.5 trillion are projected should Tokyo fail to host the Games, a hit we wouldn’t wish to see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and our beloved friends in Japan endure.
Especially with these Games having been expected to get the world’s third-largest economy firmly back on its feet.
With the Olympic Torch having landed in Japan at the weekend and expected to launch its trip from Fukushima Prefecture tomorrow across the country’s 47 prefectures, we only hope it will ignite some light at the end of a pitch-dark, coronavirus-infested tunnel.
Makori is the Editor (Sports) at Nation Media Group. [email protected]