IOC Member Insights Michael Pirrie Olympic Games Olympics Tokyo Tokyo 2020

Moving Forward: Where Does Tokyo 2020 Go From Here? Michael Pirrie Evaluates The Situation.

By Michael Pirrie | March 26, 2020

As the Tokyo 2022 Olympic Games go into recess, Michael Pirrie takes a look at the issues and implications now being faced by the IOC and Tokyo following the postponement of the Games.

The Olympic Games do not exist in a vacuum, and each is influenced by world events.

From the black power salute for racial equality at the1968 Mexico Games, to the surface to air missiles on rooftops around the London 2012 Olympic Park to protect athletes and the host city, the delivery of the Olympic Games is shaped by its time and place.

After attempting to out run the coronavirus in a final sprint to the starting line of the Tokyo Games in July, the sudden decision by the IOC and Japanese Olympic organisers to withdraw the Games was dramatic, historic, and inevitable.

The medical, social, economic and political impacts of the pandemic tower above Brexit, the Hong Kong riots, US-China trade wars, and all other major events in recent world history.

While a final decision on Tokyo could have been made possibly in late May, still enabling Tokyo’s accredited staff time to bump into Games venues and roles, the earlier postponement has provided much needed clarity for athletes and national Olympic teams.

Japan’s high-speed bullet train from Buenos Aires, where Tokyo was awarded the Games, to the nation’s capital city has been side tracked but not derailed.

The sudden delay of the Games brought the Olympic production line in Tokyo to a grinding halt.

The Olympic show has gone into an enforced hiatus before a single performer could enter the main stadium for the Athlete’s Parade.

GAMES ON HOLD 

News of the postponement spread quickly around the world, much like the virus that has forced the Games into temporary recess for the first time in history.

The high tech future promised for the Olympic movement at the Tokyo Games has been replaced by an uncertain future as the world grapples with a new killer virus and ways to combat it.

IOC President had been bullish in recent weeks about the Games going ahead on schedule, however the situation has changed rapidly.

Initial statements by Games organisers that Tokyo 2020 would go ahead were made before the pandemic began to escalate, amid hopes the virus could be contained.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

Doctors, scientists and relatives of victims however were beginning to experience a different reality as death and disease rates soared.

While a final decision on Tokyo could have been made possibly in late May, still enabling Tokyo’s accredited staff time to bump into Games venues and roles, the earlier postponement has provided much needed clarity for athletes and national Olympic teams.

It also avoided the recent debacle suffered by Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Melbourne Grand Prix, which was cancelled after all of the international drivers and crews had arrived for the event.

The decision to announce the postponement four weeks earlier than planned highlighted mounting concern in the Olympic movement about proceeding with the Games.

Rapidly rising corona cases in Italy, Spain, the United States and other leading Olympic nations served as a grim reality check and proved a tipping point against the Games going ahead.

Doubts were fuelled by lack of a detailed road map outlining protections and precautions through the pandemic to the Games in Tokyo, and silence of the World Health Organisation on Games safety.

Former London 2012 Olympic chair Seb Coe, now president of World Athletics, the most important sport at the Games, would often tell his London Olympic teams that the role of organising committees is to ensure that planning for the Games does not detract from the performance and experience of athletes.

While most attention has focussed on Tokyo as the next city in the Games pipeline, this could be just the start of the pandemic’s impacts on the Olympics, especially with Games already on the assembly line.

The postponement was also inevitable amid fears that even with hospital grade hygiene, crowded sports venues in any city could become social suicide settings.

Queues for venues could join queues for scarce heart lung machines and respirators.

TOKYO’S LEGACIES 

Tokyo had given itself every chance of success leading up to the postponement.

As fireworks illuminated Tokyo’s skyline and crowds gathered at traditional shrines and temples on New Year’s eve, Olympic organisers had good reason to feel optimistic 2020 would be Tokyo’s time.

Most milestones on the master schedule had been achieved in the penultimate year, meticulously catalogued, announced proudly to the world, and quietly celebrated in organisers’ offices.

The main Olympic stadium was completed, and detailed integrated operational planning for venues, transport, accommodation, security, city programmes and other key Games services had been largely tested and validated.

Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium will have to wait another year until it sees the olympians enter.

Tokyo’s crisis planning teams had focussed largely on natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons as the major threats to the Games along with terrorism

While several microbiologists had warned of coming viral epidemics, there were no immediate signs of a pending pandemic looming on the horizon.

Reports of a mysterious influenza like illness in mainland China were beginning to emerge late last year, but these initially appeared vague and more relevant for organisers of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Preparations for Tokyo have already left significant legacies, serving as a catalyst for some of the biggest changes in decades.

Under the direction of IOC Olympic Games strategist, John Coates, Tokyo organisers have introduced and integrated a range of new Olympic sports ready for the Games.

Spiralling venue and overlay costs have also been curbed along with concerns of corruption in the bidding process and other issues that threatened to derail Tokyo’s preparations.

The early stages of planning for Milan-Cortina 2026 could suffer while Italy is recovering from the devastating effects of coronavirus.

Coates has also helped to evolve the Olympic Games model with innovations in organisation and funding, with a greater regional spread of venues making the Games less costly and capital city centric.

CURRENT & FUTURE GAMES

Some of the most far-reaching changes, however, may still be to come in the fall out from the corona pandemic.

While most attention has focussed on Tokyo as the next city in the Games pipeline, this could be just the start of the pandemic’s impacts on the Olympics, especially with Games already on the assembly line.

Italy’s complete lockdown and tragic death toll will impact on at least the early stages of planning for 2026 Milan Cortina, while Paris 2024 organisers will already be in high levels talks with French Health Department officials about the implications of COVID-19 for public health and athlete safety planning for the 2024 Games.

THE GAMES RETURN

The return of the Games – and all major sporting events – ultimately depends on the return to normal conditions for human life and society.

This can only happen if the viral pandemic is contained and controlled and a vaccine or antiviral drugs and treatments can be found.

The same government directives that have shut down national boarders, city limits and airlines worldwide and made the Games impossible to contemplate this year, appear to be reducing, but not yet stopping, viral transmission rates and could help to pave the way for a second attempt at the Tokyo Games.

MICHAEL PIRRIE is an international communications advisor and commentator with extensive experience on major events including the Olympic Games in Sydney, London and other host cities.

IOC Member Insights Michael Pirrie Olympic Games Olympics Tokyo Tokyo 2020