Nancy Gillen

You would be forgiven for feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu right now.

January 2021 has become the new March 2020 - filled with an avalanche of speculation and debate surrounding the staging of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Back in March, the clamour grew until it became increasingly obvious the Games would not be able to take place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organisers then announced the postponement of Tokyo 2020, an idea they had been outwardly dismissing until the very last minute.   

It is yet to be seen whether history is to repeat itself fully, but these early stages have been extremely familiar. The denial from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that something is amiss is one such example.

Just last week, IOC President Thomas Bach claimed there was "no Plan B" for Tokyo 2020, even as countries battle with new COVID-19 strains thought to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible. Japan is one of those countries, with the capital and several other prefectures currently under a state of emergency.

"We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the July 23 in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo," Bach said just days ago. "This is why there is no Plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these Games safe and successful."

It is hard to believe that the IOC does not, in fact, have a "Plan B". It would be the height of stupidity to have so much riding on the staging of the Games but no alternative option if, as has occurred, the situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic remained dire.   

IOC President Thomas Bach claimed there is presently
IOC President Thomas Bach claimed there is presently "no reason whatsoever" for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games not to open in July ©Getty Images

In addition, the idea that there is "no reason whatsoever" to think Tokyo 2020 may not to take place this year is almost insulting. There is an extremely obvious reason to think the Games might not open in July, and that is the same reason responsible for the cancellation of sporting events around the world and which has forced billions of people to live under restrictive conditions for the past 10 months. To feign ignorance of the continued impact of COVID-19 on society makes the IOC seem far removed from the realities of life during the pandemic.  

Bach’s comments caused disbelief, even more so because the IOC followed the exact same method of communication last year, appearing completely oblivious to the growing threat of coronavirus until the very moment of postponement. To take the same course of action again shows the IOC has not learned from previous experience. 

It is understandable that the IOC does not want to sow the seeds of doubt or add fuel to the roaring fire of speculation, but this is already happening, regardless of the organisation’s stance on Tokyo 2020.

Instead, some clarity on alternative options for the Games could provide much-needed assurance for athletes and give hope that the IOC is ready to tackle all eventualities, no matter how the pandemic develops in the coming months. This does not even have to be in detail, but some acknowledgement that there is indeed a "Plan B" would be gratefully received.

This would particularly be the case among athletes, who have already gone through the disappointment of postponement and are likely to be impacted by the precariousness surrounding Tokyo 2020 more than anyone else. Athletes have made it clear the uncertainty is proving detrimental, especially as rumours about the cancellation of Games grow more pernicious. 

British swimmer Alice Dearing revealed speculation surrounding Tokyo 2020 was having a negative impact on her preparation for the Games ©Getty Images
British swimmer Alice Dearing revealed speculation surrounding Tokyo 2020 was having a negative impact on her preparation for the Games ©Getty Images

British swimmer Alice Dearing, who is yet to qualify for the Olympics, revealed she has now muted phrases and words such as "Summer Games", "Tokyo" and "Tokyo 2020" on Twitter. This came after a report from The Times caused quite a stir by claiming the Japanese Government had conceded staging the Games this year was not possible.  

"I love using Twitter but the noise is ruining it for me," Dearing posted. 

"I’ve put in too much hard work over 1.5 decades to have it undermined by speculation & rumours. Being in the right mind frame for training is key and I’m not having anything which I can control affect that."        

There is a way to quell this speculation and give peace of mind to athletes. The IOC could acknowledge what is abundantly clear and confirm that there is a grave threat to Tokyo 2020 and that the uncertainty of the pandemic means it cannot be certain the Games will start in July. While acknowledging this, the IOC also could assure athletes and other stakeholders that back-up plans are in the offing.

Instead, people are being treated like they are stupid and the IOC is appearing hapless and ignorant. It is unnecessary, and like last year, makes the speculation surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games all the more antagonising. If only lessons had been learned from March.