Athletes and the Olympic movement face their greatest crisis since the 1980s Cold War-era boycotts in the COVID-19 pandemic, long-time International Olympic Committee member Richard Pound told AFP on Thursday.
The Canadian lawyer, a former IOC vice president and World Anti-Doping Agency president, said the global coronavirus outbreak that postponed the Tokyo Olympics to next year has unsettled broadcasters, officials and athletes who dream of Olympic glory.
“They understand, in the end, something like public health is going to be the deciding factor,” Pound said. “Pandemic is the new war.”
The United States led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the Soviet Union responded by directing a boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the last time athletes faced such lost opportunities as COVID-19 could inflict, with fears it could frustrate next year’s plans in Tokyo and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“We haven’t had something like this since the US boycott of Moscow, a whole generation of athletes see their dreams go ‘Poof,'” Pound said.
“This would be more extreme.”
Pound called it “uncharted territory” for the Olympic movement, saying, “You can drive yourself nuts if you game out all the possible scenarios.”
In addition to golden chances likely lost for NBA and NHL stars should Tokyo and Beijing Games be lost to virus issues, many sports that get major attention once every four years will be in the wilderness much longer.
“You hope if the Olympics don’t go off, the sports schedule will come off and they can resume their operations,” Pound said. “People enjoy the games. They will find some way to keep competitive.
“It just won’t be the Olympics.”
The IOC has a focus on next July in Tokyo, with organizers hoping to trim the budget and the IOC looking at how to cut costs without diminishing the spectacle.
“Let’s not waste a good crisis,” Pound said. “Let’s have a look at the way we do things. Can we do what we have done better. Can we do things differently?
“We were looking forward to Games that would set a new paradigm… It was going to be another eye-opener. Maybe we can’t do that.”
– Exploring all options –
Whatever happens in Japan due to the virus next July, China would be looking at staging a Winter Olympics six months later. If COVID-19 remains an issue, postponement could be among the options.
“To get to that point, where you decide you can’t do it in 2022, you explore whatever options you can do,” Pound said.
“It’s out of the hands of sports organizations. You have to deal with airlines and public health organizations and the willingness of China itself to have people coming from all over the world if they are not satisfied with the state of play.
“It’s very difficult, back to the various teams from around the world.
“If we’re in Tokyo, things all may be ready for Beijing. On the other hand, they may not be.”
Pound said the IOC was not worried about the financial setback two lost Olympics could produce.
“From the IOC perspective we could adjust,” he said. “Day to day, the biggest expense is travel… you save a ton of money (on) hotel.”
The IOC has also selected its next host cities with Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028 for the Summer Olympics and Milan-Cortina in Italy for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
“You aren’t dealing with chopped liver, either,” Pound said. “That’s a pretty good lineup for the future.”