Update March 24: The International Olympic Committee and Japan confirmed the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games are postponed until 2021.
As a gay man, the Olympics have been a joy for me both personally and professionally.
I became an Olympics fan growing up in the 1970s, and watching the swimming and diving competition on ABC — and gymnastics and track and field — made me aware as a kid that there was just something I liked about seeing athletic men in swimsuits. I didn’t have a name for my feelings then and yet knew it wasn’t cool to stare at nearly naked men, but the Olympics gave me that license and freedom since the whole family watched the events with me.
Years later when I started Outsports with Cyd Zeigler, we quickly realized that the Olympics were insanely popular for our readers and, starting in 2000 in Sydney, we have covered every one and they collectively are always are most-read stories that year.
I remember Salt Lake City in 2002, Torino in 2006, Beijing in 2008, Vancouver in 2010, London in 2012, Sochi in 2014, Rio in 2016 and Pyeongchang in 2018. The list of out LGBTQ Olympians that we compiled every Games grew with each event became the media standard thanks to the crowd-sourcing we did.
We were really looking forward to Tokyo 2020, in no small part because we expected there to be more than 100 out LGBTQ Olympians. We were chronicling their journeys with coming out stories and Cyd started a very timely and informative podcast geared specially to the Olympics. It was going to be an exciting summer.
But all that has changed because of the coronavirus, which is sweeping most of the world and shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
Under that backdrop, the idea a successful Games can start July 24 seems like wishful thinking. Already, the organizing bodies for USA swimming and track and field have called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games until 2021. Nearly 75% of U.S. Olympians polled want the Games postponed.
“Unfortunately, while our world class athletes are willing to push themselves to their athletic limits in pursuit of Olympic success, the likelihood that they will be able to properly train in a safe and adequate environment, and replicate the excellence we have all come to expect, does not appear likely in the midst of this global crisis,” USA Track and Field said.
”As we have learned our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness is among our highest priorities.”
Times this statement by every governing body in every Olympic country (206 in 2016) and you can see the problem. Late Sunday, as I was writing this, Canada and Australia announced they will not send athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games due to coronavirus concerns and urged postponement for a year.
If an athlete is under lockdown and can’t properly train, how would these be a quality Games? And if qualifying events can’t be held, how can teams be selected? Add in creating a safe environment for hundreds of thousands of fans and restarting an international air travel system that has ground to a halt, and the scope of the problem is immense.
I understand why Olympic organizers and the IOC want to wait, hoping somehow things will be back to normal in a couple of months and allow the Games to came off. There are billions of dollars at stake in rights fees and sponsorship and it’s not easy logistically to simply postpone such a large event for a year. I also realize that many athletes might not have the resources to wait a year and in some sports like swimming and gymnastics, a year can take its toll on performance.
But shutting down the Games must be done and it must be done now so all athletes know the score. With each passing day, the IOC’s wait-and-see attitude will look foolhardy and based on its statements Sunday the body looks like it’s preparing for a postponement to happen.
There can even be a small silver lining in all this — a summer 2021 Olympics will quickly lead to a winter 2022 Olympics and we can overdose on two Games in six months, with the virus hopefully long in our rearview mirror.