The ultimate act of cruelty in the Olympic sports is to deny an athlete a spot in the Olympic Games that he or she has rightfully earned. For many of these athletes they only get one Olympic experience. Others may get a second Olympics, but by the time their second Olympics comes around their best opportunity to win a medal may be gone. Some athletes have training schedules so fragile that to move the Olympics by even a couple of months could radically change the results.
For these athletes the stakes are a lifetime of work being thrown down the drain. Grueling training sessions that they have endured for years were all for nothing. Thousands of dollars spent on training costs suddenly become an investment that will never bear fruit. For these Olympians, their post Olympic-life is heavily dependent on what they accomplish as an Olympian. Many of them will go on to be small business owners where their status as an Olympian, an Olympic medalist, and/or an Olympic gold medalist where be vital to attracting customers. Their entire livelihood is at stake.
It is for these reasons that the proper IOC policy to a crisis should be defiance. The games must go on as scheduled. The billions of dollars spent on building facilities only adds to the decision. The defiance was initially commendable, but as the situation has rapidly evolved it has gone from the best thing the IOC could do for its athletes, to the worst possible thing it can do.
Defiance has now become denial.
The IOC has asked its athletes to continue training as if nothing is happening when everyone knows that couldn’t be further from the truth. It has now reached the point where the behavior of the IOC is doing more harm than good. The IOC’s stance involves encouraging athletes that the Olympics will go on like normal when it is becoming increasingly clear that a normal Olympics has very little chance of happening.
When athletes are being given talking points from the IOC that are unrealistic, they no longer have a reason to trust the IOC. They have no one to turn to for guidance, no idea of what they should do. Just two days ago the IOC said:
“An event with closed doors and no spectators is not an option.”
The IOC is calling the most basic concession it will have to make to preserve the Olympics as “not an option.” That “basic concession” is no longer a basic concession as virtually every sporting event that tried to salvage their competitions by thinking barring spectators was all they needed to do, ended up seeing those events canceled anyways. The reality of the situation is that COVID-19 is so serious that major sporting events can’t go on even with concessions being made. Meanwhile the IOC is saying no concessions will be made at all.
There were a couple of sporting events that tried to defy the reality of Coronavirus and all of them ended with disastrous results. The Big East Conference was the last major NCAA conference tournament to hold out against cancelation. They had to cancel halfway through a game. In boxing an Olympic qualifying match in London was canceled after it had already started. In gymnastics the Baku World Cup suffered a similar fate.
The denial from sports administrators and the audacity to think they could overcome the outside pressure to cancel led to chaos. They not only failed to salvage the situation, they caused more disorder in the process. In the Olympic sports athletes were encouraged to travel just days before travel bans started being put in place. At a time when airlines are reducing the number of flights, customs are being overrun with crowds, and airline tickets are skyrocketing, athletes were being told to travel internationally.
That is how out of touch with reality the IOC has become. They are looking at these mistakes and have displayed a rhetoric that they plan to repeat them with the biggest sporting event there is. The Olympics have the luxury of not being held for a couple of months. But that timeline is not helping the athletes.
The athletes are being asked to train for an Olympics as if everything is normal. Yet for many of them their local club is closed, their college club is closed, and even their national training center is closed. That is without considering the biggest limbo of all, athletes who haven’t yet qualified for the Olympics have no idea what to do next as qualifying competitions can’t be held.
Even under the best case scenario the Olympics have already been significantly impacted as athletes have been disproportionately impacted. Some have managed to maintain their current training environment. Some have been forced to scramble from state to state trying to find a suitable facility and have suffered a month of setbacks. Now the IOC has to figure out how to qualify its remaining athletes without holding qualifying events. The playing field has ceased to be fair.
The athletes need a contingency plan. If the IOC is going to plan for an Olympics at its scheduled date, it should have a backup plan. There is nothing wrong with having a contingency plan. Athletes with Olympic prospects are in a state of extreme anxiety, nervousness, and lack direction. They need to know what to prepare for in the event the Olympics do not go on as they were originally scheduled. They need leadership from the IOC.
Leadership is not denial. It is providing reassurance. To tell the facts as they are. It is to plan for the scenario everyone wants to happen, but also to plan for how to deal with the scenario we don’t want to see happen. I agree with the IOC that it is far to early to cancel the Olympics. All this issue comes down to is the IOC answering the question “if the Olympics don’t happen at their scheduled date, what happens next?”