Michael Pirrie (Twitter)
By MICHAEL PIRRIE
Several of the big set pieces for the Olympic Games had been lowered into place. The Olympic Torch Relay was underway and fit out of the International Broadcast Centre had started for NBC and other high-value rightsholding broadcasters.
The sudden deferment of the Tokyo Olympics until next year brought the Olympic production line to a grinding halt.
From previous experience with Olympic committees, I recall the final six months of preparations as the most tense and anxious.
Even after years of investing precious time, money and effort, fears that the Olympic project could suddenly unravel due to unforseen circumstance haunt organising committees.
Recent history fortunately proved those fears unfounded. Until now.
OLYMPICS INTO QUARANTINE
The IOC’s dramatic decision to delay was historic, inevitable and essential in a world seemingly fighting for survival.
While anti-terrorism planning has become a standard feature of security planning, pandemic preparedness was seen as largely remote. Tokyo’s crisis planning instead focused on natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons as the major threats to the Games.
Outwardly, Japan remained confident and determined.
Doctors, scientists and relatives of victims, however, were experiencing a different reality in which the virus seemed almost indestructible.
GAMES OF LIFE & DEATH
The announcement was inevitable given fears that even with hospital grade hygiene, sports venues could become social suicide settings.
While Japan had shown extraordinary commitment in preparing for the Games, the government's primary responsibility is to protect its citizens, especially its vast population of elderly residents for whom this virus poses an existential threat.
Former London 2012 chair and Olympic middle distance champion Seb Coe would often tell his teams that the role of organising committees is to ensure that planning does not detract from the performance
and experience of athletes.
Recent statements by IOC president Thomas Bach, and Coe, now president of World Athletics, reinforced the views of government leaders and others that sacrifices are needed to protect lives.
Based on current medical evidence, the same government directives that have closed national borders also made the Games an impossibility this year. Perhaps paradoxically they will also help to contain and reduce transmission rates, which will ultimately pave the way for a second take on the Tokyo Games.
The pandemic could also affect future Games already on the assembly line.
Beijing and other Games remain at risk from possible new pathogens even as the unregulated markets that trade in live animals for food -- thought to have produced the corona virus -- remain unchecked.
Italy’s complete lockdown and tragic death toll will impact at least the early stages of planning for 2026 Milan Cortina. Meanwhile Paris 2024 organisers are likely already in high levels talks with French Health Department officials about the implications of COVID-19 for public health and athlete safety.
The return of the Games, along with all major sporting events, ultimately depends on the return of normal conditions for human life and society.
Based on current medical advice and evidence, the same government directives that shut down national borders and made the Games an impossibility this year might also help to contain and reduce viral transmission rates, ultimately paving the way for a second attempt at the Tokyo Games.
When the back lot lights come up again, the cast re-forms and the curtains are lifted, Tokyo will have revived the Olympic Games in a unique performance celebrating the world’s survival in the face of an unparalleled challenge.
Michael Pirrie is an international communications consultant and commentator with extensive experience on major international projects and events including the Olympic Games in London, Sydney and other host cities.