Aisha Chow

LONG WAYS TO GO: In this flashback photo, T&T’s Felice Aisha Chow rows to the finish in the Women’s Single Sculls Repechage 1 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yesterday’s postponement sends Chow and all other T&T Tokyo 2020 aspirants back to another year of preparation for the world’s largest sporting event.

With yesterday’s announcement that the 2020 Olympic Games will be postponed, Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis is keen for the new dates to be disclosed.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had said on Sunday that a decision on the fate of the Tokyo Games—originally scheduled for July 24 to August 9 this year—would be made in four weeks’ time. But just two days later, the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee issued a joint statement, announcing that COVID-19 had forced the postponement of the Games.

“The IOC President Thomas Bach and the Prime Minister of Japan Abe Shinzo have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”

Lewis told the Express he was not surprised by the announcement.

“They would have felt it important to confirm the official postponement. A number of discussions and negotiations still have to be undertaken to arrive at new dates for the Olympics. The statement made it clear that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had guided them that July 24 was no longer an option. In light of the advice, it was important to make the announcement right away.

“I’m happy,” the TTOC president continued, “that IOC and Japan have taken their decision now. It takes away some uncertainty from the athletes, from everybody. I sincerely hope they would announce the new dates inside that same four-week window. There’s still a certain degree of uncertainty. At this level, athletes cannot train in a vacuum of not knowing when.”

Lewis said that though the Tokyo Games will now be staged in 2021, he will recommend that the special permission granted to Olympic-bound athletes—allowing them use of Sports Company (SporTT) facilities—not be revoked.

“The top athletes have to be given that access. The reality is that at this level you have to continue training. What would have changed in the programme is when you peak. For many of our top track and field athletes, they have to keep training. Most of the events around the world, although postponed, they have not said they will not be held.

“Our top athletes will have to be ready if the Diamond League is on in the last quarter of the year. We don’t know when the qualifying events would resume: our boxers; our beach volleyballers; Gabriella Wood is trying to qualify in judo; Rheann Chung was supposed to have a table tennis qualifier; rower Aisha Chow; track and field is still in their qualifiers.”

Lewis said that while athletes no longer have to deal with the anxiety of preparing for a 2020 summer Olympics amid COVID-19 fears, there are other serious issues.

‘COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc’

“There are a number of things this decision does not change. The reality is COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc around the world. The sports world is still shut down. Olympic athletes are already under financial pressure. They have to perform to earn. In terms of track and field, there’s the Diamond League circuit and performance bonuses within their contracts.

“The postponement,” Lewis continued, “now worsens the financial and economic challenges of our athletes. We’re actually looking at how we could assist financially as best as we could. When one problem is solved, it creates many other problems.”

Among the new issues is the 2021 global sports calendar. T&T is scheduled to host the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) between August 1 and 7. If the IOC chooses late July/early August dates for the Tokyo Olympics, a decision about the 2021 CYG would have to be made.

“Because it’s the 14 to 18 age-group,” said Lewis, “I don’t see where a shift of the dates is compulsory. I believe strongly that given the negative economic impact of the coronavirus, hosting the Commonwealth Youth Games in August next year is going to be a significant boost and shot in the arm for the tourism and hospitality and entertainment sector in Trinidad and Tobago.

“There are a number of events and sports,” the TTOC boss continued, “that will still take place within the Olympics, and I am looking at it from that perspective. The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) is not part of the IOC ecosystem.”

The 1916, 1940 and 1944 editions of the Olympic Games were cancelled because of World War One and World War Two. Postponement, however, is an unprecedented move.

Like the Olympics, the Paralympic Games will be staged in 2021. The name for both events, however, will still carry the 2020 label.

“The leaders,” according to the IOC/Tokyo 2020 joint statement, “agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan.

“It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

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