It could be 2021 or never for the Tokyo Olympics.
Dick Pound, Canada’s longtime International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, said he doesn’t foresee being able to delay the Tokyo Games by another year.
“The Japanese have said we can keep the ball up in the air for a year, but not longer than a year,” Pound said in an interview with CBC Sports’ Scott Russell on Friday. “We really have to hope that we get this act together in time for 2021.”
Pound, 78, broached the idea of postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic a day before the change was made official on March 24. The Tokyo Olympics are now scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.
The Japanese Organizing Committee (JOC) is the best he’s seen, Pound said Friday, and was thus prepared for all the fallout caused by postponement. Now, the St. Catharines, Ont., native is hoping the rescheduled Olympics could become a flashbulb moment in a post-pandemic world.
“[The JOC] says, ‘It’s important to us and yes, we think we can do that.’ Then by all means yes, let’s give the kids a chance, let’s give the world a chance to weather this storm,” Pound said. “Come back and you can emerge from an existential threat to humanity with this huge gathering of the youth of the world.”
As most of the world enforces strict physical distancing guidelines, and as professional sports ponder how to hold events with as few as two athletes, the idea of 11,000 athletes around the globe congregating in one place seems nearly impossible.
But Pound says the universality of the Olympics is what makes the event so great.
“It’s a really intricate tapestry when you look at all the arrangement,” Pound said. “But that said, that’s the huge benefit of having an event that’s not just a series of world championships brought together in a television studio. It’s the people reacting with people that really matters.”
WATCH | Pound says universality of Olympics could shine through in 2021:
Pound competed in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as a swimmer, where he placed sixth in the 100-metre freestyle. He said it was his experience there — being able to meet people outside of his own sport and his own country — that sparked his lifelong Olympic passion.
And so he had a message for today’s athletes, now forced to wait another 12 months for their potentially life-altering experience.
“Hang in there. We’re trying to preserve that experience for you. It’s postponed a little but you’re resilient. If you’re an athlete, you learn a lot more from your setbacks than you do from your wins,” Pound said.
“Everybody in the world hopes that this event can be put back together a year later and the world will have a chance to see you in action. You’ll have a chance to do your best and everybody will feel good about the outcome.”
Financial cost of postponement
Beyond the athletes, the financial reverberations of Olympics’ postponement will be felt throughout the world.
“I think what we’re likely to find, somewhat to our horror, is that many of the [international sport federations] are so dependent on their share of the Olympic revenues that they really can’t carry on at the level they’re doing now, or would like to do, without making some changes,” Pound said.
The IOC will evaluate each sporting body to determine which may benefit most from revenue-sharing from the parent committee, he said.
There are also alternatives for the Olympics that the IOC is considering to cut costs, Pound said, though the idea of single-site Games — such as placing the Summer Olympics permanently in Greece — remains unlikely.
“It’s completely impractical and the Games are so universal now that they’re not Greek Games — they belong to the world,” he said. “And it’s very hard to say to all of the rest of the world, ‘Sorry, you’re just out of luck. Don’t even think about applying to be host.'”
Instead, some of the so-called frills of the Olympics, whose value may not match cost, are being examined. “It’s serious but not fatal,” Pound said of the financial fallout.
“From the perspective of the Olympic movement, there’s a potential loss of revenue and potential increase in the costs. But frankly, that’s worth it if we can get these Games on one year later than scheduled.”