Athletes from Washington state are among those impacted by the postponement of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The Games will now happen in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked about the decision — and the future of the Olympics — with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
“This is an enormous enterprise to postpone,” Thiel said. “We've had cancellations of Olympics before because of war. But we have never had a postponement like this.
“I hope people understand how big a deal this is: 11,000 athletes are representing 206 countries. They also have 200,000 volunteers and 4.5 million ticket holders to watch 46 sports in 42 venues, most of them newly constructed.
“This project started seven years ago in 2013 when Japan was recovering from the Fukushima nuclear collapse and they wanted this to be the recovery games — that's what they were calling it. And so to back down from this after seven years is a really difficult decision and I can appreciate that.
“But it pales in comparison to the pandemic and the colossal consequences of gathering so many people in such a small area, relatively, at one time. They just can't risk it.”
IMPACT ON ATHLETES
Thiel said the postponement is having a major impact on the athletes who were set to compete, including many from Washington. One is Nathan Adrian from Bremerton.
“He’s a three time Olympian bidding for his fourth as a swimmer. He's now 31, after winning gold medals in the previous three Olympics. And he also had a bout of testicular cancer. He's healthy, but is his body going to be able to deal with the aging from 31 to 32? Maybe. But this is a hard thing. And Adrian talked about this, the difficulty of keeping his body in prime condition for another Olympic bid.
“This is a major disruption in the lives of people who've been planning to do this and especially those athletes who have...geared their lives, their training and their money for this one shot in Tokyo. They may not be able to sustain for another year.”
Another question is whether the corporate sponsors backing these athletes will be able to fund them. Thiel said it’s hard to know now what the world is going to look like in a year.
ARE THE OLYMPICS WORTH IT?
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be forcing some bigger questions about the future of the Olympics. Thiel said, in his experience covering nine Olympic Games, they could use some downsizing.
“One of the things that I've seen is that it's a colossus that keeps getting bigger and bigger. And there's so much debt, there's so much disruption of the people whose homes were in the way of the stadiums.
“The International Olympic Committee doesn't want to deal with this. They don't want to really acknowledge this publicly. But people may have to say, are the Olympics really worth it?
“I personally think that they are worth it because they're among the very few things in the world that are aspirational and inspirational to everybody on the planet.
“But I think there needs to be a reckoning about the size, scope and importance of the Olympics, because we're gonna have a changed world in 2021. And where the Olympics fit, I don't know. But it shouldn't be as big as it is now.”