Gianni Merlo – AIPS President
VIGEVANO, March 23, 2020 – Now it is clear: The IOC does not plan to cancel the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It has never even speculated about it, but agrees that the Games cannot be held this summer. The Executive Board made this known after a conference call. In an interview with the New York Times Thomas Bach had allowed the idea to filter through twenty-four hours earlier when he clearly mentioned that IOC was studying new scenarios.
CONTROVERSIAL MEDICINE It seems that COVID-19 infection rates in Japan are lower than other countries. Maybe it’s because of the treatment being used – the drug Avigan – which seems to block the disease in 90% of cases if taken in the beginning. But the rest of the world does not have a similar drug available and Avigan has not been accepted for now the EU and the United States, because we are still in the field of trials.
40 YEARS AGO But now the most delicate chapter of the whole story opens. Exactly 40 years ago, shortly after mid-March, the idea of boycotting the Moscow Olympics was launched at the beginning of Spring the United States to punish the Soviet Union that had invaded Afghanistan.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the fresh new president of the IOC, then managed to celebrate a slightly flawed, but very successful Olympiad, and four years later in Los Angeles he completed the complete revival of an Olympic world that had been in agony since 1976.
A NEW BOYCOTT? This time the world panorama is different, the enemy is common, a virus that does not agree to sit at a table to negotiate. There is only one cure: isolate it and then study how to fight it. So far the Coronavirus has closed many borders, killed thousands of people and will continue to do so. It will take a few months to stem the spread of the virus and to tame it.
Some National Olympic Committees have clearly announced that they do not accept the idea of participating in the Games this year in order not to risk the health of their athletes: a boycott announcement no longer political, but dictated for logical reasons.
NEW CHOICES From tomorrow the IOC, the organizing committee of Tokyo 2020 and the international federations will have to meet to review the future international calendar. Many 2021 world championships and other important events have already been stamped on the calendar for some time. A not so simple solution – one that does not damage other initiatives must be found. We do not believe that a shift of one or three months is possible as the pandemic could continue to claim victims for a few months. It is difficult to imagine risking disaster, quarantining the teams on their eventual arrival in Japan and then participating in the competitions. It is a truly unacceptable scenario, except for a miracle, that is, the sudden disappearance of the Coronavirus
CONTRAINDICATION Another very important complication concerns doping. Many experts have pointed out a disturbing fact: for a few months the closure of the borders will not allow for unexpected checks, therefore a Games conducted in a hurry could be very polluted. They would take us back 40 years, just as boycott opened the door to more savage and state doping, because practically no country was exempt from it, wherever there was a collusion between politics and sport.
NEXT YEAR In 2021 many World Championships and other important events have already been set for some time, therefore a not so simple solution that doesn’t damage other initiatives must be found. The same goes for 2022. It is a complex panorama that cannot be solved only with money. Sport is a large global company and a political solution must be found. We were pleased that World Athletics immediately declared it was available to study the possible options in order to open a constructive discussion. Led Sebastian Coe, World Athletics was the first to move the Indoor World Championships to March next year, but has plans to hold the World Championship in the open air in Eugene, USA in July, and therefore a very delicate choice should be made to move them.
CONCLUSION I repeat it will not be easy, but it is not impossible to reach a meeting point. Sacrifices will be needed, but sport must demonstrate that it has the future of many athletes and men at heart. Selfish interests could do irreversible damage – more than the Coronavirus.