Warning signs are flashing. Politicians are lining up their excuses. Sports bodies are preparing for the worst. Athletes are confused. Spectators are banned. 70% of the Japanese population don’t want it to go ahead and lockdowns are back in force. Tokyo 2021 is looking increasingly like a dead duck and if the Japanese government could find a face-saving way out of the mire, they would take it in a heartbeat. A fourth wave of Covid infections is surging and local prefectures are taking matters into their own hands and shutting down. Osaka recorded its worst daily infection rates since January. The nightmare scenario is unfolding and it’s all worryingly sad for a nation desperate to throw open its doors and extend the most wonderful hospitality to the world.
Last week saw 4,000 new cases across Japan. Not bad by western standards but poor in Asia. Tara Kono, the government minister in charge of the country’s vaccine roll-out programme said that even if the Olympics were to go ahead, there may be no fans of any kind in the venues. Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suggested a cancellation last week saying, “If it seems impossible to go on with the Games they must be definitely cancelled. If there’s a surge of infections because of the Olympics, there will be no meaning to having them.”
It’s a dire situation where nobody really knows what to do but everyone knows what should be done. Sadly it’s a sign of the times and whilst we would all like to think that the Covid era is coming to an end, the inescapable fact is that last week the world recorded both its deadliest day and biggest number of infection cases. This ain’t over by a long shot. It’s still raging and the Olympic Games could well be the biggest sporting casualty to date. One face-saving option is for the Japanese government to come to an agreement with the IOC to come back to Tokyo for the 2032 Games. That would seem to be the fairest solution and would give everyone a breather whilst concentrating on Paris 2024 in the hope that sufficient global progress had been made. Don’t hold your breath though.
For the sailing athletes these are hard times. The current Olympic classes are all ramping up their programmes and for those yet to qualify for the final slots it’s full steam ahead but it could well all be in vain. Meanwhile the rumblings at World Sailing are mired in politics and process with the IOC effectively canning the Offshore Mixed Double-Handed and putting a gun to the head of the governing body in terms of a judicious timeline to decide an alternative.
All bets are pointing to the IOC taking this opportunity to cull a medal, reduce numbers and cut costs. It’s exactly what we warned about a decade or more ago. The plain fact is that sailing is seen as elitist and expensive not ‘urban, diverse and youthful.’ It is fighting for its life in the Games and by dint of the funding arrangements, World Sailing is commensurately fighting for its life too. Fail to deliver and fail to convince the IOC of sailing’s relevance and the whole sport could be gone from the Games within a couple of decades.
Looking at the structure of the decision making in recent years and we should not be surprised of the situation that we are faced with today. Too much self-interest and playing catch-up with the mood music of the times in terms of diversity has meant that World Sailing has felt rudderless, directionless and irrelevant to most. Be under no illusion that the indecision hasn’t gone unnoticed by the IOC paymasters and with high-politics and an agenda to ruthlessly keep the Olympic movement’s momentum and trajectory ever forwards and upwards, sailing is looking like the odd sport out. The IOC cold shoulder that’s been getting icy since Jacques Rogge (an ex Finn Olympian) departed could very soon get pointed. If it hasn’t already. Exit visas are imminent.
April 30th is the deadline for World Sailing to come up with a plan. Miss it, fall short or deliver at half-cock and sailing’s fate will be sealed. The 10th medal could well be done already. It’s medals one to nine that could swiftly follow.