Why postponing the Olympics is such a nightmare for both organisers & athletes

A mess of logistics, schedules and possibly even shattered dreams.

Tanya Ong | March 28, 2020, 03:30 PM

The Olympics will be postponed to 2021 due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Postponing is the sensible thing to do

The Olympics was scheduled to be held in Tokyo, Japan, starting July 24.

Globally, governments are taking enhanced precautionary measures -- travel restrictions and advisories issued, with some under lockdown.

There are very real fears given that the Olympics will see a huge influx of people -- hundreds of thousands of attendees -- flying in to one venue from all over the world.

Several countries have also indicated that they would pull their athletes out of the Games if it were to continue as planned this year.

Singapore declined to comment on if our athletes would pull out, though.

And in light of the virus situation, postponing the Olympics seems like a perfectly reasonable and perhaps even right thing to do.

But now that the Games will be held a year later, this provides a whole new set of problems.

Logistical nightmare in re-planning

A first obvious problem is the logistical nightmare.

The Olympics is an event that demands years of planning, going into details such as coordinating transport, accommodation, media, and more.

In fact, the document detailing the operational requirements laid out by the IOC is in itself 292 pages long.

CNA reported that the Olympics gravitate around a four-year cycle and postponement will have consequences on the sporting calendar.

2021, for instance, sees a packed sporting calendar, and packing the Olympics into that year would be a logistical nightmare for both athletes, administrators and broadcasters.

In addition to that, CNA also highlighted that venues could be an issue.

A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore, and nights that have already been booked in hotels would now require rescheduling.

But what does this mean for athletes?

The International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach said that cancelling the Olympics would "destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes... and for all the people who are supporting (them)".

But even without cancelling, postponing it for a year would have grave consequences for athletes.

Need to recalibrate

For athletes, timing is everything.

Their training schedules and daily routines are built around the sporting calendar. This determines when they train, how they train and when they rest, to optimise peak performance at key events. Like the Olympics.

Singapore marathoner and SEA games gold medallist Mok Yingren shared with Mothership that "having our dreams dashed is always painful".

He explained that for many of them, much of their lives, in terms of career and family planning, are put on hold just to pursue these athletic dreams:

"The physical and psychological preparation will take a toll on the body and difficult decisions will have to be made. And for those who are cross their prime age, to bounce back up again may be challenging."

Delaying the event by an entire year throws a spanner into the works for these athletes, who have potentially painstakingly built their lives around the Olympics happening in mid-2020.

However, Mok added that it is necessary for athletes to "recalibrate (their) goals".

Further challenges in training programme

Taekwondo athlete Ng Mingwei also said that an "obvious implication" of the delay is that his training schedule has been extended.

"While more time to prepare is generally good, there appears to be no significant advantage to me as all other Asian athletes will benefit accordingly," he explained.

With the virus situation worsening, Ng said that it is difficult to them to compete or train at 100 per cent capacity, since taekwondo is a contact sport.

Nevertheless, Ng said that this is a "fluid situation that will require dynamic arrangements".

View this post on Instagram

Beating the virus, one day at a time! Not going to let this virus stop my training for the Olympics Qualifiers during this period. Thankful to Coach Dave Cook from Norwegian National Team for keeping me sharp and his wife for taking the photos! 🇸🇬🇳🇴🥋 #taekwondo #tkd #tokyo2020ne #teamsingapore #teamsg #oneteamsg #norway #singapore

A post shared by MING🦁 (@mingweirocks) on

Possibly losing the opportunity forever?

For some athletes, they may have intended to retire after 2020, as they feel that they have passed the age where they can compete with younger, possibly fitter counterparts.

Missing the Olympics in 2020 means they could have potentially missed the window to compete forever.

The Singapore National Olympic Council said in a media statement on Mar. 24 that this decision to postpone the Olympics was “made under difficult circumstances”.

In response to Mothership’s queries, they said they will regroup with the affected National Sports Associations to review any changes and updates from their respective International Federations on the qualification process and revisions to their selection policies.

Lives over sporting glory

Does this mean that some athletes may miss on a chance to compete, or win a medal because of the postponement?

Mok told Mothership that there's certainly a possibility.

"Even six months of postponement can cause plans to go off the tracks and difficult decisions will need to be made.

Physiologically some athletes may be at the peak of their physique, missing this window of opportunity will definitely come with a cost."

However, he also acknowledged that "the preservation of lives (should) be prioritised over sporting glory". He said:

"If the postponement of the Olympics is deemed to curb the spread of the virus by medical experts then, all athletes should support this life saving decision."

Only thing left to do is keep moving forward

With all these changes afoot, perhaps the only thing that athletes can do now is to keep pressing on.

For Singapore's only Olympic gold-medal winner, Joseph Schooling, he said this decision is the right one, and will provide them clarity to work out the best plan around the new dates.

Athletes will also need to “focus on being prepared” and giving themselves the “best possible chance of success at the largest sporting event in the world, Schooling said.

But what about those who will not be able to compete?

Mok shared that it's not uncommon that athletes who spend our lives fixated on the major games cycle to neglect planning for the future, resulting in a "sense of loss or even resulting in depression upon retirement".

"We should consider what is most important in our lives and then start with the end in mind as we go through this challenge," he said.

Top photo via Juliano Ferreira, Pexels