Maintain or postpone? Locked in the headquarters of the Lausanne Olympic Committee, within reach of the great directors of the international institution, also installed in separate offices, Thomas Bach is under pressure. Only the two world wars have so far ended the feast of the rings, the last cancellation concerned the Games of 1940, which were planned in … Tokyo. But the former German fencer, elected in 2013 to head the world’s largest sports institution, cannot ignore the wave that is mounting in favor of postponing the Games, still officially scheduled for this summer.
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“We have started discussions with all partners to draw up an inventory of the rapid development of the health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including a postponement scenario (Olympics, Editor’s note) “, writes Thomas Bach in a letter to athletes, made public this Sunday, March 22. “We are confident that we will have finalized these discussions in the next four weeks”, he added. The IOC said in a statement that a “Cancellation is not on the agenda”.
The welcome on the sly in Japan, Friday, March 20, the flame from Athens and the announcement of a minimum route through the Japanese archipelago for the Olympic symbol struck the minds. A cascade of requests for postponements then began to accumulate, relaying the first individual calls, then less and less isolated, from the great voices of international sport. Like that of Frenchman Kevin Meyer, Olympic champion in decathlon in Rio, symbol of these sportsmen concerned by the impossibility of participating in qualifying events. And therefore not at all sure to be able to defend their title if the Games went as planned.
Athletics and swimming federations preach for postponement
“Beyond the immense health problem, I believe that the issue of sports equity is the most important. In some regions, like in Asia, we will soon be able to start training again, elsewhere, it will not be possible, “ explains Enzo Lefort, Olympic foil vice-champion in Rio, who should have been assured of his qualification, this Wednesday, March 24. To date, 57% of the qualifying tickets for the Games have been sold, but 43% are still vacant. With no visibility for the candidates on the way to go to obtain them, since the qualifying competitions have been canceled.
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On both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States and in France, the European bridgehead of the sport slingshot, the two largest federations of individual Olympic sports in terms of participants sounded the load. Swimming and athletics urge the IOC to postpone the Games, shaking up National Olympic Committees that have so far turned a deaf ear.
“We are going towards a postponement, it is inevitable”
French swimming president Gilles Sezionale has been clear: “I express my deep disagreement with the line” the president of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) Denis Masseglia, and his “Firm position” to support the maintenance of the Olympic Games on the scheduled dates. “We are convinced that in the current situation, we are going towards a postponement, it is inevitable”, says the head of the French athletics federation, André Giraud.
“The decision is made but remains secret”
So far, the International Olympic Committee has been pretty much united in the storm. But for how long ? Sending a questionnaire to all the National Olympic Committees over the weekend, responsible for reporting on the state of affairs and opinion in their country, seems to be the first step towards the postponement. “In reality, I think the decision has already been made, but they cannot announce it because of the penalties incurred by the insurance companies, which will only reimburse the deferral costs in the event of force major, which implies having exhausted all remedies and time limits ”, analyzes Michael Tapiro, sports marketing specialist and director of Sport Management School, business school specializing in sport.
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According to him, any decision other than a postponement would be catastrophic in terms of the image for an often criticized Olympic institution. “They can’t take the risk of being portrayed as selfish and interested only in financial matters. Not to mention that the health situation will not give them a choice ”, he continues.
“ In a few weeks, some continents like Africa or South America will be impacted in turn, completes fencer Enzo Lefort, worried about the virus spreading to the Caribbean and his native Guadeloupe. Maybe Asians, Russians and Europeans will be cured, but not the rest. If not everyone can participate, the Games cannot take place, it’s that simple. “