Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to postpone the Olympics until the summer of 2021, so they should be given some credit for their ultimate decision. However, the way Bach and Abe went about it was disturbing, to say the least.
Initially, Bach and the IOC noted that governments imposed social limits only into late April and invoked Trump as an example. At the time, President Trump said he wanted the economy to open things up by Easter. Eventually, Bach said the final decision came when the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus was accelerating.
Yet, Bach and Prime Minister Abe didn’t decide to postpone the games until Canada and Australia decided not to send its athletes to the Olympics. Prior to that, the USA Track and Field and USA Swim team pushed for a postponement of their own, stating that it would be difficult to properly train in a safe and adequate environment. It sounds as if Bach and the IOC were waiting for someone to make the first move.
The other question is, how could athletes train due to closure of non-essential businesses and social distancing? Surely, a track and field relay team can’t prepare in isolation or via Zoom.
“I know some people who are like, ‘I’m going to sneak in the gym and take the fine,’ this or that,” Simone Biles, one of the USA’s most decorated gymnasts, said to ESPN. “It’s your health and your safety. You have to be careful around other people.”
Bach also claimed the number one reason for postponing the Olympics was to protect the health of the athletes and everyone involved. However, the IOC never had any open talks with any of its Olympians. Michael Phelps, most decorated Olympian of all time, criticized Bach even though he ultimately made the right decision.
Phelps told NBC sports “I was shocked that he hadn’t canceled this before”.
Phelps went on to say that this wasn’t the IOC’s first experience with unusual circumstances such as the air quality in China or the Zika virus in the Brazil Olympics. Phelps wasn’t the only athlete who criticized Bach and the IOC. Callum Skinner, a British gold cycling medalist, blasted Bach.
“IOC President Thomas Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance has spectacularly failed in this instance and he has weakened the Olympic movement. This isn’t the first time he has put his own motives above the athletes and the movement,” Skinner wrote on Twitter.
Bach was urged to resign by the lawyer, Jim Walden, of the whistleblowing Grigory Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov was the former director of Russia’s national doping laboratory. Walden criticized Bach’s leadership as pathetic and that change at the top is needed because he failed to provide enough protection for Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov eventually sought asylum in the United States.
With all the talks about where their priorities of the IOC lie, Bach and the IOC considered whether the Olympics could squeeze into a tight 2021 schedule with other events such as the World Athletics in Eugene, Oregon. They even had time to consult with their 14 major corporate sponsors. If the health of the athletes are your primary concern, then why wouldn’t you consult with them?
Professor Katsuhiro Miyamoto, economics professor emeritus from Kansai University, told ESPN he estimates that the Olympics will lose more than $5.7 billion in revenue, but the IOC decided to run and hide behind their non-profit status. Everyone and every entity in the world is losing money due to the pandemic, but money is not more important than life.
Even President Trump eventually acknowledged that the Olympics should be postponed a year, only to be pushed aside by the Japanese government.
The bulk of the blame lies with Bach and the IOC, but Prime Minister Abe is not free from guilt. Once the Olympics were officially postponed, a suspicious amount of coronavirus cases spiked in Japan. It was so bizarre that former Prime Minister accused the government of furtive behavior.
“In order to make an impression that the city was taking control of the coronavirus, Tokyo avoided making strict requests and made the number of patients look smaller,” former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said in a tweet.
The Olympics should be remembered for moments such as when the US Hockey team defeated Russia, or how Jesse Owens victory upset Hitler, or how Usain Bolt struck a pose that went viral, not the Coca-Cola trademark. Bach put thousands of athletes in the hands of a surreptitious government. He lacked the logistics of athletes in training, neglected to consult with the athletes, failed to consider the health and safety of the athletes, and used governments as a scapegoat and he learned nothing from previous experiences with unusual circumstances. The IOC needs new leadership and they need it now.
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