Olympics: Singapore athletes and officials welcome postponement, anticipate new challenges

Pedestrians take photos of the Olympics rings at the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo, March 24, 2020.
Pedestrians take photos of the Olympics rings at the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo, March 24, 2020.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - After weeks of uncertainty, it was relief for Singapore athletes and officials as confirmation that the July 24-Aug 9 event would be postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic came in on Tuesday (March 24).

But different challenges lie ahead of them as they plan towards the tournament that will take place by next summer.

A joint statement by Team Singapore athletes, the Singapore Sport Institute (SSI), as well as the Singapore National Olympic Council and Singapore National Paralympic Council Athletes’ Commissions yesterday said: “The SSI and Team Singapore athletes support the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

“Together with the Singapore National Olympic Council and Singapore National Paralympic Council, we stand fully and firmly alongside our athletes and coaches in their preparations even as new plans for the Tokyo Games are being made.”

With the new dates not released yet, it will be tough for athletes and National Sports Associations as they re-plan training programmes and competition schedules.

Singapore Sports Institute's head of high performance and athlete life Richard Gordon said: "It doesn't help us with planning, but what we'll do is we'll look very carefully at the statement that was made, we'll try and identify the things that we can control and focus on those."

The postponement means that national shooters, who were set to begin their peaking programme during this period of time, will have to rejig their plans.

Singapore Shooting Association president Michael Vaz said: "We set up all the competitions so that they could peak at the right time so now it's game over.

"We just have to adjust our schedule, but I feel relieved that the welfare of our shooters is taken care of."

With several shooters taking time off from work and school to try and qualify for the Olympics this year, Vaz was concerned that they would not have the opportunity to do so again.

"There were a couple of people who took time off from work and school, so there are little glitches and it's inconvenient for them," he said.

For many, competition schedules are still not firmed up due to the Covid-19 outbreak, which has led to the cancellation or postponement of many Olympic qualification events.

The national shooters' plans to compete in several overseas tournaments such as the March 15-26 ISSF Shooting World Cup in New Delhi, India, which was postponed, were scuppered.

 
 
 

While the national women's table tennis team had already qualified for the quadrennial tournament, tournaments in the lead up to the Olympics will be crucial for their preparations.

Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee believes that it may take some time for competition schedules to be firmed up amid the coronavirus situation, but she acknowledged that it was something that they had to accept.

She said: "It will take time for the competitions, especially those organised by the International Table Tennis Federation to be reconvened again, but that's something that we can't control.

"My concern is how soon this pandemic will end and how soon those competitions will be pushed back, but it's (postponing the tournament) the right thing to do, especially looking at the pandemic situation. The health and safety of my athletes, coaches and staff are more important because they need not be unnecessarily exposed to these risks."

There is also the issue of next year's sporting calendar being oversaturated, with the Nov 21-Dec 2 SEA Games.

Gordon said: "2021 is usually a down year in Olympic terms, but we've got the SEA Games and Asean Para Games (in early 2022) to look forward to in Vietnam. It'll be interesting to see if that's impacted and how it'll be impacted. We haven't had Para Games from 2019 yet (they will be in October 2020) so the para events are starting to back up against each other."

 
 

But despite these uncertainties, Vaz, Lee and Gordon were relieved by the International Olympic Committee's call to push back the Games.

Gordon said: "The number one (priority) is the health and safety of our athletes. We're dealing with a global pandemic. It means that some training will be cancelled and some of the urgency that was there with the Olympic deadlines has now been taken away.

"I think that's a positive thing because it allows us to regroup, take stock of what we're looking towards and plan forward accordingly."