21-year-old Florian Wellbrock of Germany wins Olympic qualifer

Tokyo Olympics Faces Force Majeure, Postponement

Courtesy of WOWSA, Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo Bay, Japan.

It seemed inevitable that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were in jeopardy when Tokyo was an early hotspot in the coronavirus (COVID-10) pandemic in January – February.

European countries and the United States were seemingly much safer back then and talks of postponement and cancellation were mostly driven by the events and decision in Japan, China and Korea.

Times and circumstances have rapidly changed. The hot spots of Asia have shifted to Italy, the USA and a growing number of other locations outside of Asia – and this migration of the pandemic has dramatically increased the momentum and global move towards postponement and cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Italy was among the strongest voices pushing for postponement – Tokyo 2020 is not in the cards for Italian athletes as it currently stands. The same position is held by Team Canada and the French Health and Solidarity Minister Olivier Véran regarding sending Canadian and French athletes to Tokyo. USA Swimming was another powerful organization with global influence that is lobbying for postponement as were the delegations from Norway, Brazil, Spain, and Slovenia, among others.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to place a comprehensive nationwide travel ban on Australians for possibly the next six months is probably the tipping point for postponement,” opined Steven Munatones. “With the Olympics only 124 days away, this essentially counts out very specifically six marathon swimmers who have already qualified for Tokyo.

The collective stance of Italy, USA and Australia directly impact Haley Anderson (2nd qualifier from the USA), Rachele Bruni (3rd qualifier from Italy), Kareena Lee (7th from Australia), Ashley Twichell (6th qualifier from USA), Jordan Wilimovsky (5th qualifier from USA), Gregorio Paltrinieri (6th qualifier from Italy, shown above), and Mario Sanzullo (9th qualifier from Italy).

Although, in reality, Florian Wellbrock (1st from Germany), Marc-Antoine Olivier (2nd from France), Rob Muffels (3rd from Germany), Kristóf Rasovszky (4th from Hungary), Ferry Weertman (7th from the Netherlands), Alberto Martinez (8th from Spain), David Aubry (10th from France), Xin Xin (1st from China), Lara Grangeon (4th from France), Ana Marcela Cunha (5th from Brazil), Finnia Wunram (8th from Germany), Leonie Beck (9th from Germany), and Sharon van Rouwendaal (10th from the Netherlands) are also directly impacted by any decision that will soon be forthcoming from the IOC and the Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee.

Although many surveys and polls – both formal and informal – have been taken among athletes and fans alike with overwhelming support to either postpone or cancel the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in the swimming world, it is these 20 marathon swimmers who have already qualified for the Olympics and earned a guaranteed spot in the Olympics.

Other swimmers, even well-known Olympic champions and world-record holders from Australia to America still have not officially qualified for the Olympics.

The IOC is expected to make an official announcement of the 2020 Olympic Games this coming Tuesday – and it is expected that the Japanese organizers will subsequently announce the new dates for the Olympics.

Once the Olympic announcement is made and alternative dates are set, there will be a mad rush for the athletes and coaches to make alternative plans where and when they will train,” predicted Munatones. “Since many athletes from America and Australia to Italy and Iran have prevented from training locally and, according to the U.S. government, these limitations may continue for a few – or many more – months, there will be athletes who will miss a half year or more of training.

Just as Prime Minister Morrison said, “We have to live differently in dramatic and drastic times”, the athletes may have to train differently or at least in different places.

I can see an internal debate within the IOC to push off even to 2022. However, there are other complications in the global sporting calendar. NBC with its huge investment in broadcasting rights in 2020 or alternatively 2021 or 2022, does not want the Olympics to fall within the American fall (September – November) sports calendar. Too removed from summer and the weather could be too cool or too cold in Tokyo outside summer or early fall. Beijing has the rights to the 2022 Winter Olympics, so having both a Winter and Summer Olympics in the same year would be a change (back to how the Olympics were hosted until 1992 when both Barcelona in the summer and Albertville in the winter hosted Olympics in the same year). The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in November – December 2022 so that global event will not be impacted by a 2-year delay to Tokyo.

But the IOC and Japanese will most probably major decisions and announcements over the next 48 hours.

From holding the Olympics without spectators to cancelling the event, from delaying a few months to a few years, all options have their advantages and disadvantages. It is inevitable that some stakeholders will not be happy. Sponsors, athletes, coaches, broadcasters, organizers, IOC, other international events whose dates may be changed, vendors, and family members and spectators who have already purchased tickets and made reservations for this year’s Tokyo Olympics, will all be impacted.”

See updates on the IOC decision about the timing of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics here.

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