Should the Tokyo Olympics be held this time?

With less than 80 days before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, the travel restrictions and massive coronavirus surge have compounded challenges. Should the Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 23, be held this time?

Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until at least the end of the month to arrest a surge in Covid-19 cases less than 80 days before the start of the Olympics.

The Malaysia Open has been postponed, leaving many badminton players shattered. Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth had hoped to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics through this event.

A few days ago, Indian athletes were forced to miss the World Relays in Poland, an Olympic qualification event, as many European countries banned flights from India. There were also issues with the archers' travel plans for the World Cup Stage-2 in Lausanne.

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The Olympic Games are less than 80 days away, but the travel restrictions and the massive coronavirus surge all over have left athletes restless and confused. The two-week quarantine in many countries is another factor troubling them as they look to train or compete abroad.

That brings us to the big question: Should the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on July 23, be held this time?

“I'm all for having the Olympics. It comes once in four years, and a lot of hard work is involved. Of course, during war-time, many missed out but this is something different. When you can have it, when you can conduct it, you should do it,” said former national badminton coach U. Vimal Kumar, a former international.

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“And only an athlete and people involved with it will know the pain a cancellation brings. If you look at the Olympics, the total is between 15,000 to 20,000 people. We have weddings with a 10,000-plus crowd. The Japanese will manage it with super efficiency. I'm very confident, if they conduct it, they will do it without any issues. Those who are worried can stay away,” he added.

- There could be withdrawals -

Anju Bobby George, the lone Indian to win a World Championship medal with her long jump bronze in 2003 in Paris, is undecided.

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“If you look from the athletes' angle, years of hard work will go waste if the Games are not held. But if you have an Olympics now, it will not be a fair event because many athletes may miss the event and sometimes athletes may catch COVID-19 in Japan and may not be able to compete,” she said from Bengaluru.

“So, I'm not for it or against it. As an athlete, I am completely confused about where to stand. And as we come close to the Olympics, the athletes will feel the pressure more this time. Actually, in an Olympic year, if we draw a plan, we will strictly go according to it as long as we don't have an injury.

“But this time, we can't say anything....we are so much worried about our lives and safety. They are now talking about a third wave and a fourth wave. And if the Olympics happen, they will be very different this year. The Games Village used to be a happy place for athletes, that will not be the case this time.

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“Also, some big names and even a few countries could skip the Olympics. Australia recently said that it would give a five-year jail term for people returning home from India. If it is so strict, will it send its athletes outside in such a situation? I have doubts about the US too,” she added.

- Have an ''Athletes Only'' Olympics -

Former Asian 400m champion Muhammed Anas wants the Olympics to happen after all the recent disappointment.

“Having prepared so much for it and after having missed the World Relays, the Olympics should be held. Of course, since the situation is very bad, even if it is held there could be problems. If they are having it, they should have it with only athletes,” said the 400m national record holder from the Indian camp in Patiala.

V. Baskaran, the captain of the Indian team that won the hockey gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, wants the Games to be postponed. However, the International Olympic Committee has made it clear that it would not budge from this year's July-August dates.

“The Olympics should be postponed to probably November-December and if they are unable to do it, they should cancel it. You can't have a situation where a qualified athlete is unable to compete because of COVID. Who will replace him? How can athletes who can qualify be stopped from qualification meets? Anybody can produce a surprise,” said Baskaran, from Chennai.

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“And in a team game, what happens if one player tests COVID positive? Will they stop the whole team? Whatever it is, the life of the athlete is more important than anything else,” he added.

OLYMPICS WILL OFFER HOPE

Asian champion Jinson Johnson feels that if the Olympics are held, it will remove all the uncertainty over next year's events.

“We have the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games next year, all events where we can do well, so if Tokyo happens, there will he hope that they will happen too,” he said.