Olympics postponement raises questions, throwing athletes' scheduling into disarray

CBC

It's still going to be called Tokyo 2020, but the Olympics and Paralympics are now, most likely, going to be happening in the summer of 2021.

In the wake of Tuesday's unprecedented announcement — the first time the Games have ever been postponed — a logistical nightmare stands in the way of the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 planning committee.

Athletes have questions they want answered once again, a common theme they've been grappling with ever since the global COVID-19 pandemic created havoc with their usual rigid routines.

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From venues to scheduling, qualification processes to shifting timelines and financial consequences, the IOC and organizing committee have an enormous amount of work to do — something they could never have expected or planned for even as recently as three months ago.

"It will create some complications, but it's better than exposing athletes to a dangerous situation," Canada's Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, told the CBC on Tuesday. "One of the things will be how many of the facilities that were planned for 2020 will be available in 2021. The international sport calendar will have to be rejigged."

WATCH | Canadian IOC member Dick Pound on postponement:

Two massive international events set for summer 2021 — the world athletics and world aquatics championships — will no doubt be affected by the postponement. World Athletics, track and field's governing body, said Tuesday it's talking with organizers about alternative dates for the track world championships set for Eugene, Ore., next summer.

The event is currently scheduled to run Aug. 5-15, 2021. That would be in direct conflict if the Games parallel the original schedule set for Tokyo 2020, which were to run July 24 to Aug. 9.

World swimming body FINA also said it will talk to the Japanese organizers of the 2021 world championships about a possible schedule clash with the Tokyo Olympics.The championships are planned for July 16-Aug. 1 in Fukuoka.

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

And while thousands of athletes worldwide now have some of the clarity they so badly craved since the beginning of the global pandemic, they are also again facing the unknown.

"Utter relief. Excitement. Uncertainty," Erica Wiebe told CBC Sports following Tuesday's announcement by the IOC. "We're in unprecedented times. We'll be more ready than ever in 2021 and wearing the Maple Leaf with more pride than I thought was possible."

Two-time Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan is on the COC's athletes' commission and was a vocal proponent of Canada not sending athletes to Tokyo this summer.

The 31-year-old from King, Ont., said she was relieved the IOC did not wait four weeks to make a decision.

"I know it's not an easy decision, and the process is incredibly complex, but I do think it does give an incredible opportunity for the Olympic Games to be a story of the world coming together and overcoming this virus," she told Canadian Press.

"The last 36 and 48 hours have absolutely been a whirlwind for athletes across Canada and also athletes around the world."

On Sunday night, it was announced Team Canada would not be attending Tokyo 2020 if they went ahead as scheduled. While it seemed as though a postponement was inevitable, the strong Canadian stance sent a shockwave through the athletic community.

On the outside, it was a united effort as athletes took to social media saying they respected and appreciated the move and that safety was more important than sport. But in the background many Canadian Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls were heartbroken and wondered what it meant for their athletic dreams.

Team Canada's slogan is "Postpone today. Conquer tomorrow." The chance to conquer is now once again a reality but getting to Games, whenever they happen, isn't going to be easy.

"I think everyone in every industry is wondering when we can return to normal life," Wiebe said.

On March 15, the 2016 Olympic wrestling champion earned her spot to Tokyo 2020. The Stittsville, Ont., native, celebrated on the wrestling mat in Ottawa, somewhat subdued knowing her celebration might be met with not attending the Games this summer.

WATCH | Some Canadian athletes' careers could be in jeopardy:

"It seems a little surreal," Wiebe, 30, said then. "I've been doing this sport for a long time. I thought I had seen it all. But I have yet to experience a global pandemic."

While Wiebe and so many other Canadian athletes are feeling some relief knowing they will in fact get their chance to compete on the world stage in summer 2021, there's a barrage of questions spinning through their minds.

"The big uncertainty is what does qualification look like?" Wiebe said Tuesday. "What is the actual postponement start date? Will international federations set up competitions between now and a 2021 Games to mitigate lost competition opportunities leading into a 2021 Games? How will athlete funding be allocated? When will training facilities open again?"

Will international federations set up competitions between now and a 2021 Games to mitigate lost competition opportunities leading into a 2021 Games? - Canadian wrestler Erica Wiebe

It's an unending list Wiebe is running through over and over.

When Pound was asked about the fate of athletes who have already qualified, his response was anything but reassuring.

"It's an interesting question. Someone who qualified in 2020 might get surpassed by an up-and-comer by 2021. That's another negotiation point," Pound said.

At the time of Tuesday's announcement, 57 per cent of the athletes set to compete at Tokyo 2020 had qualified, leaving a large number of athletes that have yet to get their chance to earn a spot in the Games.

A number of qualification events have been postponed already, including a last-chance men's basketball qualifier that was set to take place in Victoria at the end of June. Canada's team needed to win the tournament to earn a berth to Tokyo.

Canada has already qualified eight teams in various sports, one shy of the record nine teams it sent as the host nation at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

"Mixed feelings for our athletes," Seyi Smith, chair of the COC's Athletes' Commission, said of Tuesday's decision. "Good that they can focus on everyone's collective responsibility to the pandemic now. Bad that meticulous planning for the Games and life planning post-games has been derailed."

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