North Korea has been formally suspended from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by the IOC as punishment for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Games citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the sake of the Olympic legacy, sports fans globally must ensure the upcoming Tokyo Games are treated with the significance they deserve.
For an entire generation, these Games will be the first glimpse into the magic of the Olympics, and first impressions in sport – as in society – are integral.
The Games of the XXXII Olympiad – to be held in the Japanese capital of Tokyo – have irrefutably developed into the most long awaited, yet nonetheless contentious Games of the modern era. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have remained steadfast in their decision to proceed with the Games, despite the immense backlash generated– not least within the host nation itself.
Historically, the Games themselves have far too often provided the backdrop for political unrest and corruption on the global stage. From the Olympic bid scandal of 2002, to the repeated bankruptcy of developing nations having hosted the Games, the globe’s greatest celebration of sport has regularly been overshadowed by greed and the abuse of power.
Notwithstanding such risks (yes, sadly such issues have become an associated risk), many – myself included – would argue that the benefits far outweigh the aforementioned concerns.
No political, entertainment, or sporting event has the ability to connect cultures in the way the Olympics can. The extraordinary feats of participating athletes aside, the focal point of each Games is the coming together of the world.
The Olympic Games provides a platform from which nations can leave their mark – an impression – on a global stage.
Think back to Fiji winning their first and only Olympic gold (to date) in the rugby sevens, only five short years ago. The triumph led Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama to declare a fourth public holiday upon the side’s return, adding to the three the week prior as the finals progressed.
Such is the power (in a positive sense) and significance of the Olympic Games.
The Tokyo Games will no doubt be spectacular in their own right. Sure, the lack of fans and possibility of empty venues (a final decision is still yet to be reached) will no doubt detract from the event, however such restrictions have become commonplace in the sporting sphere.
For the past 16 months, empty seats, artificial crowd noise and virtual press conferences have become essential as the globe has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Indubitably, sport must take a backseat when lives are at stake, which is perhaps the reason these Games will be the most impactful of the modern era.
As far as sports fans are concerned, the period of June to August has been – and will continue to be – sporting paradise. The European Championship finals, Tour de France, the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, the World Test Championship final, and of course, the Olympic Games have provided Australian sports fanatics with reason to brave the cold, winter nights.
Amid this world-class sporting extravaganza, it seems as though the Olympics have been swept under the rug, taking a back seat. The pre-Olympic hype essentially guaranteed once every four years has been non-existent. Needless to say, this is no place for the crowning jewel in the four-year sporting cycle.
The matter of the fact is that these Games – rightly or wrongly – will proceed. Never before have the Olympic Games required fans in the way that these Tokyo Games will.
Based upon Olympic trials, it appears as though the athletes are prepared to dazzle yet another audience of fans. The question is, are the fans willing to support a Games clouded in controversy?
For the sake of the legacy of the Games, I hope the answer is resounding in the affirmative.