Neither Feasible Nor Desirable, 2020 Summer Olympics Are Now Postponed

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Late Sunday evening, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), backed by their Athletes’ Commissions, National Sports Organizations and the Government of Canada, announced they would not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer in Tokyo citing the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic affecting both health of both athletes and the public as the reason for pulling out of the Games. They became the first country to refuse participation in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“The COC and CPC urgently call on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to postpone the Games for one year and we offer them our full support in helping navigate all the complexities that rescheduling the Games will bring. While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” it said in a statement.

Two-time Olympic tennis player Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, lauded his country’s decision. He wrote on Twitter:

“Tough decision but the right one 🙌🏼. Athletes can wait. Sporting events can wait. This is bigger than sports.“

Pospisil, who teamed with Daniel Nestor and lost in the bronze medal doubles match at the Rio Games in 2016, agreed with his National Olympic Committee’s decision. In an interview with SportsNet Canada, Pospisil said, “The way things are going right now, sports can wait. Logistically for the safety of everyone involved in the Games, the world has other things to worry about right now. 

“We need to wait for all this to pass. The fallout of it will be quite significant and dramatic, I assume. It makes sense to focus all of our energy and resources on trying to stop this pandemic.”

Canada’s decision not to send its athletes to Tokyo this summer set off a domino effect throughout other parts of the world.

Soon after, Australia and Germany announced that they would not send their athletes to Tokyo if the Summer Olympics went on as scheduled. Other countries like the United States, Great Britain, Brazil, Norway and Slovenia expressed their concerns.

Then, on Monday afternoon, Christine Brennan, a veteran sports columnist for USA Today, broke the news in an exclusive interview with IOC member Dick Pound that the Summer Olympics would be postponed – likely until 2021. On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Brennan quoted Pound as saying. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Immediately, it set off speculation that if the 2020 Tokyo Games are put off to next year, when would they be scheduled? How would It affect those who likely would have played in the Olympic tennis tournament this year? Does this mean that veteran players like Roger Federer and Serena Williams might reconsider any thoughts of retirement in order to play in another Olympic Games? These and other questions were discussed Monday afternoon by Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport, who won an Olympic gold medal for the United States competing at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games; Paul Annacone, who formerly coached Federer and currently coaches Taylor Fritz; and Sports Illustrated tennis writer Jon Wertheim, during a special edition of Tennis Channel Live, broadcast to a mostly North American cable and satellite audience. Each is a Tennis Channel analyst.

Here’s what each had to say about the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics and its effects on tennis:

Jon Wertheim: “This was inevitable. We saw athletic federations coming out against Tokyo hosting the Olympics in 2020. We saw athletes including the whole Canadian delegation. So the big question now is when will they be held? Remember, they were supposed to be held between Wimbledon and the US Open. In tennis terms now, it’s entirely possible the 2021 Olympics might clash with one of the majors. So, we’ll have to see where this event is going to be. We’ll have to see what players will be eligible, and what tennis is going to do about points accumulated. A lot of decisions here, but this decision was inevitable. There was no way after the events of last week that the Olympics could go on in Tokyo, and now it’s official.”

Lindsay Davenport: “Tennis is lucky that it has four majors every year. In other sports, the Olympics is everything; the end all and be all. I think some of the athletes are relieved. When you get to the Olympics, you want to be at your best. Sadly, all around the world, athletes aren’t able to train. It has effected everyone. Safety comes first and I’m sure not too many wanted to be traveling overseas in a couple of weeks. I think it’s the right decision. Hopefully, everyone stays safe and healthy and, hopefully, it can be held in 2021.”

Paul Annacone: “It’s all about prioritizing what’s going on right now. There are so many more important issues outside the sports world and I think this is the right decision. It’s pretty incomprehensible how they could executive operating the Olympics this summer in Tokyo. You make the decision first, then you deal with the prioritization second. The calendar stuff is going to be so complex, especially tennis more so than other sports. It will have to be resolved.”

Jon Wertheim: “Ideally, (they might be) playing about the same time. I think a lot of players have spoken openly, from Venus Williams to Coco Gauff. This is a really special event in tennis. We know there are number of players who are gearing to end their career who have pinpointed this event as a real capstone. So, tennis players right now are in a real strange position. They are trying to stay in shape, but you can’t go out there and play tennis.You’re trying to keep mentally sharp, but you don’t know what for. You don’t when you’re going to get back out there. Maybe, though, this will have the effect of prolonging some careers. So, we know the names: Venus Williams will be in her 40s this time next year. Roger Federer will be 39, Serena will be 39. We know which players are getting up there in years, and have had success in the Olympics before and have spoken about their ambitions. It will be really interesting to see who shows up.”