Coronavirus pandemic: Olympics postponement

S'pore welcomes decision, anticipates challenges ahead

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

After weeks of uncertainty, there was relief for Singapore athletes and officials, with confirmation that the Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

But different challenges lie ahead as they head back to the drawing board for the multi-sport event 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 try to rejig their training programme and competition schedule.

SSI'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."

For the shooters, who were set to begin their peaking programme during this period, there could be major adjustments.

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

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

With several athletes taking time off from work and school in their Tokyo qualification bid, he was concerned they would not have the opportunity to do so again.

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

 
 

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

The shooters' plan to compete in several overseas tournaments, including the postponed March 15-26 ISSF Shooting World Cup in New Delhi, India, was scuppered.

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

  • 2021 

    SEA Games are slated to be held in Vietnam next year, with the Olympics adding to what appears to be an oversaturated sporting calendar.

Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee believes it may take some time for the competition timetable to be firmed up but she acknowledged that it was something 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 (the Games' postponement) 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 an oversaturated 2021 calendar, with the Nov 21-Dec 2 SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam, already scheduled for what is "usually a down year in Olympic terms".

Added Gordon: "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 so the para events are starting to back up against each other."

Despite the uncertainties, the three officials were relieved by the International Olympic Committee's call to defer the Games.

 
 

Gordon said: "The No. 1 (priority) is the health and safety of our athletes. We're dealing with a global pandemic. It means some training will be cancelled and some of the urgency that comes with the Olympic deadlines has now been taken away.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore welcomes decision, anticipates challenges ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe