Sport at its best is a glorious indulgence that blends adrenaline rush, exultant joy and mind-numbing grief both for the athlete and the expectant fan. However, in its worst form, sport is war minus the shooting while the cause of nationhood whips up jingoistic passions. But whatever be its intrinsic nature governed by context and history, sport can never exist in a vacuum and it needs a functional society to serve as its bedrock. In these distraught times of the pandemic and the resultant social distancing, basic survival takes precedence over moving limbs and the frenzied applause from a thrilled audience. And it was no surprise that sports events have been postponed or cancelled and the latest to face a disruption in its schedule is the Olympics. Football continues to be the beautiful game but the Olympics remains the world’s greatest congregation adhering to its eternal ‘faster, higher, stronger’ motto. Originally slated for a July 24 to August 9 slot at Tokyo this year, the high-voltage event got derailed once the coronavirus took flight from Wuhan’s wet market and coursed through the veins of an inter-connected globe. Initially, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and host Japan were in denial and Australia and Canada threatened to boycott the event before better sense prevailed and the Olympics was pushed to a July 23 start, next year.
A postponement is a first in the chequered history of the modern Olympics since its inception at Athens in 1896. But worse has happened, especially the cancellations, during 1916, 1940 and 1944, when the World Wars drew vicious lines of hate. There were also the Cold War years when the United States and its allies boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980 and the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics retaliated along with the Eastern Bloc by skipping the 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles. The most heart-rending was the ‘Munich Massacre’ during the 1972 edition in then West Germany when a Palestinian group, Black September, killed 11 members of Israel’s squad. Seen through that prism of a bloodied past, the latest postponement seems a mere quibble. IOC president Thomas Bach and Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori concurred that fresh logistics had to be worked out and ideally a year’s preparation was mandatory. Initially estimated to cost about $28 billion, a delayed Olympics will have to factor inflation and a shrinking economy coping with a pandemic. Over the next 12 months, it is hoped the virus will wane and a semblance of normalcy will set the stage for the Olympics. Sport then would be a welcome balm. But for now, universal health is the overriding priority.