Daily US Times: For many athletes, today was the last chance to participate in the Tokyo Olympics. They are too old, too financially stretched or too exhausted to wait for another year after the pandemic forced its postponement.
Thirty-five-years-old Tetsuya Sotomura is one of them.
Tetsuya placed 4th at the Beijing Olympics back in 2008, just missing a bronze medal. Since then he’s fought injury that put him out of London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. Tokyo was to be his last chance, a hometown Olympics to end his trampolining career on a high. But another year is just too much him.
He told the BBC: “Back in 2008, if the Beijing Games had been postponed by a year I would have thought ok, it’s another year to train, another year to grow.”
“But now I am 35. A year feels like a very long time. So, I have decided retirement is the only option.”
But there is another reason the athlete is getting off the trampoline because he thinks Tokyo Olympics 2021 may never happen.
“It’s so uncertain. No-one knows the probability. If what awaits us next year is cancellation, I would have lost another year for nothing. So that is another reason to go now.”
Enthusiasm for the Olympics has plummeted in Japan since coronavirus cases arrived here in January. The Japanese government has closed its borders to most foreign travelers to protect the country from imported cases, and many Japanese people are in no hurry to see them re-open for athletes or spectators.
TV reporters have been visiting the towns which were expected to host various foreign teams and asking locals how they feel. The residents of a town north of Tokyo due to host the Brazilian team were clearly struggling to maintain any semblance of enthusiasm. An opinion poll by the Kyodo news agency found just 23% of Japan’s population now support holding the games if Covid-19 infections are still widespread next year.
The latest figures published by the World Health Organization (WHO) do not make for happy viewing. According to WHO data, more than 15 million infections worldwide, and that number is growing by about a million every four to five days.
From the US to Brazil, from South Africa to India, suppression efforts are failing and infections are surging. Of course, a year feels like a long time, but health experts acorss the world say it is now very unlikely the pandemic will be contained by next summer.
Prof Kentaro Iwata from Kobe University Hospital in western Japan, says the only hope for the Olympics is a vaccine.
He says: ”If a vaccine is available it could be a game changer. Phase 1 and 2 trials have some promising results. I have not lost hope.”
But he says generally vaccines don’t eradicate a virus, they lower the incidence by about half. So, he says he doesn’t think Covid-19 can be eradicated. Instead [even with a vaccine] it will continue into 2021.
Prof Iwata is particularly concerned looking at what is going on in the United States, the country that more than any other pays for the Olympics.
The professor said: “The US will suffer from Covid for many months to come. Can athletes come from the US come here? Can we have the Olympics without Americans? Most likely not. The priority must be the safety of the athletes and of Japanese people.
“The US TV companies may not like that, but is the Olympics a sports competition or a TV show?”
There is one seemingly simple solution as BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes wrote in his atricle. Push the Tokyo Games back another year to 2022. It is far more likely the pandemic will have run its course by then. But the Japanese government ruled out the plan. Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, said it is now 2021 or bust.
He says: “What we do know is 2021 is our last chance.”
Mr Pound says it is not something we can put off until 2022 or 2023.
”I don’t think it’s fair to expect Japan to keep the balls in the air any longer. To the extent that it’s safe for the athletes to come, every effort will be made for the Games to go forward,” he said.