Tokyo 2021: Real Olympic Games or banal summer games?

In March 2020, after intense reflection, the IOC and Japan, in particular given the pandemic linked to covid 19, decided to postpone the holding of the 2020 Olympic Games for one year. 11 months later, are we further along in knowing whether or not to maintain this planetary manifestation?

Elements of answers with our expert on Olympism, Armand de Rendinger

More advanced certainly, because what was at the time only an epidemic which we hoped to end in the second half of 2020, we know with hindsight that it was the beginning of a real planetary pandemic involving an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis. It is easy to remake the film of unforeseeable events a posteriori, but there were many serious experts who already at the time said that no one had the means to predict the future and therefore to anticipate the measures to be taken so that the Olympic Games may be, if they are not maintained on the scheduled dates, postponed by one year. So it was up to Japan and the IOC to take a decision of an essentially political and economic nature. Based on the principle that the health crisis would be overcome in time, the gamble of being able to organize the Olympic Games a year later became an accepted principle for decision-makers and would certainly be less expensive than canceling them with all the costly consequences that we have. can imagine for the Olympic movement as a whole.

As of today, is the bet about to be won?

In fact, a year later we find ourselves with as many certainties as there are questions about the smooth running of the Olympic Games in Tokyo from the second ten days of next July. So the bet, to this day, is far from being won and the Olympic movement is in an unprecedented situation. Indeed, despite all the efforts made by the Japanese to prepare for an Olympic Games worthy of their prestige, the possible measures taken in health matters for the safety of all and the optimistic forecasts of some experts, everything will depend on the the state of control and eradication of the pandemic and the effectiveness of current and future vaccine measures. So a year later, the questions are still the same: can the Olympics take place? If not, when will it be possible to officially announce their cancellation? One certainty: such an eventuality cannot be decided at the last minute.

The Olympic movement, with its umbrella institution, the IOC, is therefore in a unique situation. Since their return in 1896, only 2 world wars were right of the Olympics, in 1940 and 1944. No political crisis (boycotts) or economic (lack of financial means on the part of the organizers) led to the cancellation of the Olympics. Only war is considered a case of force majeure, which is not yet the case for a health crisis from a legal and no doubt insurance level to justify such a decision.

An unpredictable and unpredictable situation a year ago no doubt, but what are these certainties and uncertainties today that you are talking about which will necessarily lead to a short-term decision whether or not to maintain credible Olympics in 2021 in Japan?

Many factors come into play and it is the analysis of their combination that will allow you to answer your question. To summarize them, we can differentiate:

  • The most certain factors:
    • The remarkable work done by the Japanese to adapt by all means in a difficult context a satisfactory organization of the Olympics which had to be postponed for a year,
    • A rational estimate (approximately $ 2 billion) of the cost of this postponement, correspondingly increasing the organizational budget initially planned ($ 13 billion),
    • A clear desire from a majority of athletes wishing that the Games take place,
    • A general awareness that the Olympic Games cannot be organized in a traditional way and cannot have the usual media aura due to the reduction in ceremonial expenses (opening and closing ceremonies, medal presentation), personal services (athletes, VIPs), logistics, length of stays for athletes and the media in the respective villages but also the elimination of festive gathering areas for fans, families or foreign nationals, etc. To simplify the long-awaited Olympic celebration will not be the one known and hoped for, despite the efforts made by Tokyo 2020/2021.
    • The personal position relating to the maintenance or not of the Olympics of Thomas Bach himself. After having known how to impose his authority during the first 8 years of the IOC Presidency and in the process of being re-elected for another 4 years (he is the only candidate in this election) next March, it is certain that, for his image, he it will be difficult for him alone to endorse the decision to be the first IOC President to cancel an Olympic Games for reasons other than acts of war. Also, only the state of the health crisis and / or the refusal of the Japanese to organize the Olympic Games could lead President Bach and the IOC to submit to such an eventuality.
  • The most uncertain factors:
    • Without taking into account the questionable and contested polls made day by day on the interest that the Japanese have in their Games, it is clear that the mobilization of the latter and of the supporting companies for the Olympic Games, which will by nature be degraded, are seriously fading, all the more so as they are part of a difficult local political context and with governance that is not unanimous,
    • The real cost of the Olympic Games, if they take place, is considered to be underestimated and the invoice for their possible cancellation is not known or at least not communicated. This state of affairs is all the more maintained since no one has commented on the question, beyond the contract between the IOC and Tokyo since its appointment in 2013, of knowing who will pay all the additional costs and the inevitable compensation in the event of a loss. cancellation in particular.
    • Finally and this is undoubtedly the most important, no one can say with certainty where the pandemic, the Covid and its different variants will be, in July 2021 in Japan, as in the rest of the world.

So for you, at this stage, is the state of the health crisis that will dictate the fate and nature of the Tokyo Olympics?

Essentially yes. After all the work carried out in particular by the Japanese and the IOC for 1 year on all the possible logistical, economic, financial and legal scenarios to arrive at a rational as to the organization or not of the Olympic Games in 2021, it should be noted that all communication, for those who know the “Olympic language” of the latter goes in this direction. One might even think that it will ultimately be up to the World Health Organization (WHO) to make its recommendations prevail. Not sure that the IOC and Japan take the risk of organizing universal Olympic Games, open to all, vaccinated or not, unable to impose drastic rules of access to Japanese territory, without taking into consideration the opinion of the WHO.

On the other hand, the Olympic movement may well assert its autonomy and its independence with regard to any external organization, political or not, it will be difficult for it to take the risk of overriding the opinion of this institution. health and secondarily its recommendation.

In the meantime there are only a few weeks left for the IOC and Japan to make up their minds, hoping that the vaccines will have produced the desired effects and results and that the athletes will have had time to train optimally to participate in the Olympic Games. . Let us never forget that the athletes are the raison d’être of the Olympic Games and that they represent the peak of their careers.

To conclude, are you optimistic about their maintenance?

I wish, for the image of Japan and the Olympic family, that they take place. Admittedly if this is the case, they will not be the Games hoped for by the athletes, but games bringing them together at a global sporting event that can highlight the quality of a country’s efforts to overcome a major crisis and participants who trained to win medals. It will be a success if indeed the Japanese people find their account and if its organization does not lead to contribute to the health crisis, by the creation of a monumental “Olympic cluster”. Of course, science always works miracles.

Miracle for Japan if the Olympics are maintained. But also a miracle, Games or not, for the IOC and the Olympic movement. Indeed, from this major crisis, and this is why I am optimistic, serious reflection and measures adapted to current and future times on Olympic governance will necessarily arise. This will concern, finally and in a profound way, the entire strategic, economic and sporting dimension of sporting bodies and the organization of the Olympic Games.

So when the actors in charge of the organization of the Olympic Games repeat that such a crisis will have little impact on the models of preparation and organization that they have developed to date, they make at least one mistake. of communication, if not an act of irresponsibility towards the populations who believe in the values ​​of Olympism and who still support the virtues of a peaceful organization, such as the Olympic Games.

In this, the current crisis, despite its dramatic nature, can also be beneficial for the modernization of the ecosystem in which sport is developing. Can we not already see this in the compulsory and rapid change that major sports disciplines hit by the crisis have to endure, both in terms of their economic model and their organization?

Finally, it is clear that in the future the cities and countries which apply for the organization of the Olympic Games will build with the IOC a contract for the co-production of the Olympic Games which will be very different from that in force today.

Photo credit : Panoramic

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