Tokyo Olympics 2020: IOA, NSFs and SAI must stay on top of their game to help athletes after postponement of Games

It is just as well that, with their training schedules having gone haywire because of the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), many of India’s athletes were readying themselves for the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo to be rescheduled from 24 July. They will be able to deal with the decision announced on Tuesday to hold Tokyo 2020 next year better.

 Tokyo Olympics 2020: IOA, NSFs and SAI must stay on top of their game to help athletes after postponement of Games

The Olympic flag is pictured at the entrance of the IOC headquarters. AP

These are early days and there is no knowing how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Federations revise the qualification criteria for each discipline for Tokyo 2021. It would get very tricky for all of them to reschedule qualification events. Some of them may decide to not change the qualification criteria drawn up for the Games in July 2020.

It will be a good wager that teams that have qualified in some disciplines might retain their berths, needing only to alter the date. Others, with an eye on ensuring that only those in good recent form will compete in Tokyo, will have to actively consider revision and come up with a plan that is both practical and does not hurt those who worked hard to make the grade.

World Athletics has already indicated that there will be a revision. “In light of this announcement, we will also expedite our current review of the Olympic qualification system, in cooperation with the IOC, and release any changes to the process as soon as possible so athletes know where they stand,” it said in response to the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee decision.

From an Indian perspective, it will be hoped that the men and women’s hockey teams will not have to face fresh rounds of qualification. Similarly, since the shooting and archery quotas were allotted and won for the National Olympic Committee, these will be retained. The National Federations will have to revise selection criteria in view of the Games being pushed back to sometime in 2021.

It is only in other individual disciplines like athletics, badminton, boxing, equestrian, sailing, table tennis, tennis, wrestling and weightlifting – where the IOC and the respective international federations may end up announcing fresh qualification criteria – that can impact Indians who have qualified or are on the verge of qualifying.

The most affected may be tennis star Sania Mirza who could have invoked the Special Ranking after her return from child-birth to secure a place in the women’s doubles draw in the Olympic Games in July 2020. Shorn of that protection beyond eight events (she has already played four) within a year, she will have to work her way up the rankings – a task which is not beyond her.

There are others like boxing legend MC Mary Kom, who turned 37 at the beginning of this month, and shooter Sanjeev Rajput, 39, who will be challenged by the postponement to stay motivated and in form. Some others, like the table tennis teams who missed the 2020 bus, may now fancy their chances by sharpening their focus and zeal just in case destiny offers them a second chance.

Para athlete Sharad Kumar’s resolve speaks for all athletes. “Tokyo 2020 will be our victory against the COVID-19 pandemic,” says the two-time Para Asian Games high jump gold medallist and the 2017 IPC World Championship silver medallist from his base in Kharkiv in Ukraine. “Of course, it will be a challenge, but I will stay motivated and continue training with intensity.”

To be sure, many athletes like Bajrang Punia – seen by many as a medal certainty – have already indicated that the world health is more important than the Games.

“We have to first save people from this epidemic,” the champion wrestler said. It is a thought echoed by so many athletes

Having said this, it is crucial that the Indian Olympic Association, the National Sports Federations and the Sports Authority of India are at hand to counsel the athletes in the wake of the decision to defer the Tokyo Games until next year. The country will be busy battling COVID-19 but IOA and the Federations must be on top of their game and help athletes deal with the evolving situation.

To begin with, it will be important for athletes in national camps for athletics (Patiala, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram), hockey (Bangalore) and weightlifting (Patiala) to be asked to return home (under due care). More, so since some of these facilities may be used to house quarantined COVID-19 patients or Intensive Care Units for their treatment.

There is no doubt that India, like every other nation, will have to start from the scratch when it comes to planning the athletes’ preparations for Tokyo 2020 to be held in 2021. But that will have to wait until the COVID-19 threat has been dealt with in the best possible manner. And, India’s athletes will keep themselves healthy and in good shape when away from the national camps.

An unprecedented series of events call for a great level of acceptance by the athletes and, more important, proactive leadership to deal with new scenarios. Indian sport’s support staff must ready themselves to not only address the athletes’ issues but also encourage and support them to come to terms with the impact of the decision to postpone the Games till after 2020.

Indeed, it is just as well that the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee decided that the postponed Games would retain the name Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. For, Mention of Tokyo 2021 will have sounded very odd to ears that are conditioned to hearing Tokyo 2020.

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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2020 09:21:24 IST