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It's no go for Tokyo: Time to say sayonara to the Games athletes can't reach



HOLDING THE LINE: The Olympic Rings logo in front of the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne yesterday. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

HOLDING THE LINE: The Olympic Rings logo in front of the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne yesterday. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

HOLDING THE LINE: The Olympic Rings logo in front of the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne yesterday. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

There's a certain consolation for those of us not talented enough, committed enough or abstinent enough to ever make the Olympics: we've got the same shot as the world's best athletes of competing in Tokyo this summer - none.

Still the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been doing its damnedest to channel Jim Carrey's character in Dumb and Dumber when told there's a one-in-a-million chance of hooking up with Mary Swanson: "So you're telling me there's a chance?"

Right now the IOC is that incoherent drunk oblivious to the outside world, refusing to leave the pub long after closing time; it's the cocky chap who keeps working through a fire alarm, assuming it's just a drill; it's the smiling dog in that internet meme, sitting in a room saying "this is fine" as the world starts to burn.

But we should expect little else from an organisation that sold its US broadcast rights to NBC for $7.5 billion yet still can't pay athletes a dime in prize money; an organisation that, lest anyone try to cash in on sponsorship opportunities during the Games, has its deplorable Rule 40 to keep the stars of the five-ringed circus shackled in relative poverty.

You can understand why athletes were especially pissed off this week when the IOC refused to publicly consider cancellation or postponement despite opportunities to qualify disappearing faster than cost-price hand sanitiser. "If you can't qualify for the Olympics, how can you have an Olympics?" asked athletics manager Matthew Turnbull this week, and that's a key point. Just over half of the expected 11,000 Olympic athletes have qualified. What about the rest?

The US has imposed an eight-week ban on gatherings of more than 50 people - sayonara to sport for that time - while the plug was pulled midway through the Olympic boxing qualifiers in London this week. British Gymnastics cancelled all events until the end of June, and that's now the most optimistic deadline for sport to get out of these woods.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are starting to realise that the real threats to their societies came not from a malevolent outside force, but from a sickness that had long circulated within - and that's also the case with the coronavirus.

Public Health England reckons the epidemic will last until next spring, with cases set to peak between late May and mid-June. When the UK sneezes, Ireland still catches a cold, so what chance sport there - or here - is up and running by June? For the Olympics to go ahead in July, it has to.

Yet earlier this week the IOC encouraged athletes to continue to prepare "as best they can", which smacked of a teacher telling students to keep studying over the summer in the absence of any exams.

Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi wasn't having it: "The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family's health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger."

Athletes are doing what they can, but it could all be in vain. With running tracks facing shutdown, Phil Healy relocated to Curracloe in Wexford where Ireland's fastest woman does much of her training on the beach. Her coach, Shane McCormack, moved his home gym equipment into Healy's place to allow her to strength train and in the absence of group sessions, his athletes have run competitions in their WhatsApp group like press-up challenges.

There is still light on the horizon. China hosted its first athletics competition last week since the original outbreak, and more events are scheduled in April. Japan has seen the number of new cases levelling off in recent weeks, but when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisted the Games will go ahead as planned he sounds as behind the times as Abe Simpson: "I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was."

The past month has taught us those who underplay the threat of this are eventually made to look like idiots, but it's easy to see why organisers want to buy time. NBC sold more than $1.25 billion in advertising for this Olympics, and postponing the Games would jeopardise deals that are its lifeblood.

Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, higher, stronger. It's been the Olympic motto for 96 years, but it's time to concede there is something faster, higher and stronger than even the world's biggest sporting event.

With so many lives lost and so many facing financial ruin, there's no point overplaying the plight of Olympic athletes, but the reality is they can't train properly and, for months, they will have nowhere to compete. Drug testing has even gone on a relative hiatus, and that's one area in which the Olympics could do without losing any more credibility.

The Games will be back, maybe in 2021, maybe later, and if it's true that it's the hope that kills you, then the IOC should put athletes out of their misery sooner rather than later.

But as for the summer of 2020, for that great gathering of our most gifted kind, it's time to admit defeat. Or as they say in Japan, sayonara.