Alan Hubbard

Should we applaud Tokyo’s dogged determination to go ahead with the 2020 Olympic Games? Or is it a stubborn, foolhardy venture that is certain to end in tears – and perhaps tragedy? I still cannot make up my mind. Obviously the organisers believe it is not worth the risk, but how can we be sure?

Should anyone die as a direct result of contracting the coronavirus while specifically in Tokyo for the Games, the recriminations will be loud and long and the effect on global sport would be immense.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario could be that a huge spike in the virus during the Olympics will cause them to be abandoned. Neither the Tokyo organisers nor the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could ever live that down.

So fingers crossed as we hear Thomas Bach declare, “Let the Games begin!”

I do feel sorry for those competitors who have trained assiduously in the pursuit of Olympic gold. It must feel as if they are running, jumping, swimming, boxing and climbing walls in a void. Empty stadia and arenas are no substitute for the authentic roar of a crowd.

What am I looking for from Friday onwards? Well, all the spirit of Euro 2020 and none of the rancour or riotous behaviour. I understand from my journalist colleagues that reporting on the Games will involve restrictions never encountered before in an Olympics. This is one of the reasons why the BBC have cut back their broadcasting contingency by about two thirds. But I doubt the viewing figures will be diminished, such is the anticipation of a diversion from the strife of current life.

IOC President Thomas Bach has welcomed the beginning of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has welcomed the beginning of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

We will rely on the words they relate and the pictures the television cameras will transmit to tell us the accurate story of Tokyo’s Olympics Lite, the oddest Games in history.

Even I doubt we will witness many athletic miracles or shattering of world records in any sport as these unique circumstances are hardly conducive to bringing out the best performances. My hope is that those taking part can relax and enjoy the craic as much as those of us watching in the comparative comfort and security of our own homes.

No Spectators, no applause, no cheering. Not even any free condoms available to athletes in the games village such is the determination to avoid any degree of mingling. Good luck with that one.

What is heartening is that so far we have had no adverse reports of massive increases of the virus among those who participated in the Euros. There seemed to be no bar on the hugging in celebration, and medals were presented by being properly draped around necks and not lifted by the recipient from a sanitised tray with a perfunctory brushing of forearms.

I have no wish to be a prophet of gloom and doom. I would hate to see Tokyo 2020 as a sort of Cassandra Crossing for international sport.

But questions need to be asked. What happens if there is a massive spike, and the games produce an “Olympic variant” of the crisis? For once, it will not be the positives from the routine drugs tests that will be of major concern to the IOC but those from the lateral flow tests. How many will it take to see whether Bach is big and bold enough to call a halt? He has the power, but will he have the courage? Or, indeed, the inclination?

His is a thoroughly unenviable predicament. The cancellation of the games would mean a massive loss of revenue for the IOC. But it would also mean an even bigger loss of face for the Japanese. Having worked In the Far East, I can assure you the latter would be seen as a far greater cost.

Of course, despite the negative aspects, there will be some magical and emotional moments to savour. But most of these will have a special poignancy about them, not least in the Paralympics which are due to follow. It takes a unique kind of courage for a disabled athlete to take part in events like this with his or her underlying disadvantages. We must admire their fortitude as we do those who officiate and organise.

So let us not be too pessimistic and very much look forward to the excellence of sporting competition between individuals and nations.

Tokyo will embrace the finest facilities and welcoming hospitality, even though the vast majority of the sceptical Japanese nation are openly wishing these games were taking place anywhere but in their homeland.

It is fair to say in most other countries they would’ve been called off long before now, though maybe not in Great Britain. Here I could envisage bull-at-the-gate Boris Johnson endorsing them going ahead. So might Putin in Russia. But I believe most, not least the United States, would have put safety first.

As for China, well the belief remains strong that what the world has suffered these past 18 months or so is down to them. It would be interesting to see – or hear – what sort of reception the Chinese team would’ve received from a Japanese crowd as the nations are not exactly bosom buddies in any sphere of life.

“The show must go on” is the oldest adage in the entertainment industry. So does the same go for sport?

The Olympics are an event which, like the Euros – only arguably more so – will bring spectacle, excitement and great entertainment to the multitudes at a time when such uplifting of the spirit is most needed.

Campaigners call for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to be cancelled ©Getty Images
Campaigners call for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to be cancelled ©Getty Images

As a matter of interest, showbiz's greatest modern impresario, Andrew Lloyd Webber, has decided that his new show can’t go on, calling off the opening night of his London West End production of Cinderella hours before it was due to begin, blaming a Covid case and the government's policy of isolation.

If and when the games officially get underway, it will be inevitable for the memory to flashback 49 years to the morning of September 5 1972 when we awoke in Munich to news that there had been a terrorist attack in the Olympic Village by a Palestinian group calling themselves Black September, killing and holding hostage a number of Israeli athletes.

As the events of that grim day unfolded, many of us began to believe that even an event as massive as the Olympic games were not worth the shedding of anyone’s blood and thought they should be abandoned there and then.

But the uncompromising American billionaire, Avery Brundage, then president of the IOC, stood firm his own desire for them to continue with only a 24 hours respite and a memorial service once the situation was concluded.

Bach was a young lawyer in Germany at the time but no doubt that awful day will be etched deep in his own mind, too. He will approach any situation in Tokyo over the abandonment of the games with similar reluctance, and understandably so. All we can do is wait and see and hope.