MARTIN SAMUEL: Without the athletes Tokyo's race was run

MARTIN SAMUEL: Without the athletes Tokyo’s race was run… the Games’ arrogant administrators must now accept that the coronavirus does not care for their egos, best-laid plans or the huge sums of money they’ve spent

  • The Tokyo Games have been postponed until 2021 due to coronavirus outbreak
  • Long before the call was officially made, the Olympics were already done 
  • Not so much that IOC cancelled Games, but more that the athletes did it for them
  • Without competitors and a host of nations, this summer’s Olympics’ race was run
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

It was in the Sky Banquet rooms on the 47th floor of the Keio Plaza hotel in Shinjuku last October that British visitors became fully acquainted with the Japanese concept of shoganai.

Eddie Jones, coach of England’s rugby team, used the word numerous times to explain the local attitude to the incoming typhoon.

Shoganai, roughly translated, means ‘it cannot be helped’ and is a useful mindset to cultivate in a country built on fault lines and buffeted by frequent, deadly storms. It can also be turned towards nuclear disasters or bad governments.

Without athletes, the 2020 Olympics’ race was run, no matter when the official call was made

Accept and move on. More than any loss of face, even a loss of money, when coronavirus threatened the 2020 Olympics, shoganai is what fuelled the hosts’ defiance. They would get through it, they would endure. What is a philosophy in Japan, however, was beginning to look like pure recklessness beyond its shores.

Long before IOC president Thomas Bach received the call from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe that brought the 2020 Games to an abrupt close, the Olympics were already done.

Australia had pulled out, Canada too. Major federations in the United States had signalled their displeasure and across the globe individual athletes were in revolt. Without competitors, Tokyo’s race was run. It was not so much that Tokyo and the IOC cancelled the Games, more that the athletes cancelled it for them.

If Japan was concerned about public embarrassment the greatest would have been to push ahead and risk the drip-drip of humiliation as nations and individuals, one by one, withdrew. Japan was hosting a party, but inviting guests whose own houses were on fire. They had bought all the food and drinks, hired the disco, but positive RSVPs were in short supply.

Japan is used to the rage of the elements, but coronavirus is different. On the day Typhoon Hagibis hit Tokyo, an earthquake did too. Watching the English language rolling news service for updates, this development so traumatised the presenter she became upset and had to be replaced. Even shoganai only stretches so far, it seems, and it has now found its limitations faced with germ warfare.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe brought the 2020 Games to an abrupt close on Tuesday

Typhoons and earth tremors conform to the logic of acceptance because, truly, they cannot be helped. Natural disasters can be prepared for, and Japan has no equal in that field. Equally, the effects in the aftermath can be overcome with collective will and organisational expertise.

Coronavirus is not the same because its initial spread, its very existence, is most certainly within human control. The fight against it can be helped with self-discipline, by forms of isolation, by not creating a petri dish of humanity in Tokyo and taking a chance no harm will come of that.

Although crowds in the open air are not considered the greatest risk, the transport to and from events, the social gatherings that are an inescapable part of any sporting event, present an enormous peril.

Already, those studying the spread of coronavirus in Europe are alighting on outbreaks they believe were sparked by a sporting fixture — Valencia’s visit to Atalanta, a specific football match in England as yet unnamed — and the potential human cost of the Olympics cannot be calculated with any certainty from this distance.

For athletes to prepare, they would have to be training now, at a time when many governments are banning all but essential movement. It is hard to quantify any activity related to Olympic competition as essential, if the opportunity exists to reschedule it in the calendar.

The one note of disquiet in Tuesday’s postponement, then, came in the unnecessary deadline applied to when the Games will be held. 

‘A date beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,’ read the statement from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee. 

The Games will take place when it is ready, when we are ready and when coronavirus is ready

And yes, ideally, the Games will be held in roughly the same period of summer, one year on. Yet they do not have to be. We do not know how the world will look then, what its priorities will be, or how best it will be able to safeguard the health of athletes or spectators.

So the IOC statement was something more than shoganai. It was arrogance and posturing by administrators who cannot comprehend that coronavirus does not care for their egos or best-laid plans, for the money they have spent, for the edifices they have constructed. It is they who must now accept and move on, they who must rationalise their new reality.

The Tokyo Games will take place when it is ready, when we are ready, when coronavirus is ready. To presume anything more is a word that, fittingly, has its roots in the country that gave birth to the Olympics: hubris.

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article