Over the past little while, the International Olympic Committee has been doing daily updates on the Tokyo Games.
It ought to save itself the trouble of writing releases. Instead, it can send out a text on repeat: “After another night of consideration, we have extended our endless vacation in fantasyland.”
You and I know the 2020 Olympics are not going to happen this summer. By now, dogs and toddlers could tell you the Olympics aren’t happening.
Because if the Olympics were to happen, they would be the one thing happening anywhere and no one would go to them. At this point, it’d be like holding the wake while the not-quite dearly departed is still going into surgery.
But the IOC still insists the Olympics are happening.
Last Thursday, every major sports league was in the process of shutting itself down for the foreseeable future. The IOC was instead sending out another news release: “We remain absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts in our commitment to delivering safe Olympic Games in July.”
On each day since, the IOC has doubled down on this increasingly hallucinogenic position. On Sunday, it budged an inch by agreeing to hold an emergency meeting to “keep the international [sports] federations informed of the situation,” according to the Agence France-Presse. There was no suggestion this will result in a postponement.
The meeting will take the form of a conference call. Because we are in a weird space where the same people who say they aren’t that worried yet about COVID-19 also don’t want to be in a room with strangers, breathing their air.
A couple of weeks ago, you might’ve called the IOC’s approach cautious or prudent. It has five months of leeway. A lot of money is on the line. Thousands of amateur athletes have spent years arranging their lives around this event.
That was two weeks ago.
From the perspective of today, what the IOC is doing isn’t just pointless. It’s reckless.
It is the corporate public relations version of a testimonial about miracles: “I talked to God and He said this will all turn out fine.”
Even if it does, that isn’t the way we should be preparing. This is the time to plan for the worst-case scenario, even if we want to believe in the best.
Are you watching CNN? Because that isn’t helping. Ten minutes of CNN has become the mental equivalent of sitting in a darkened room while speakers blast in music you hate. It leaves you pliant and disoriented.
Twenty minutes of CNN will have you down in the basement swinging a pick-axe because that bunker is not going to dig itself.
In events like this, the news cycle insists on a daily change of theme in order to keep things fresh and terrifying. Thursday was the panic-shopping day. Friday was the ‘angry at profiteers’ day. Saturday was spent wrapping our heads around the fact this crisis will last months, not weeks. Sunday was the day to consider what social distancing will cost us, now that we all know what it means.
With so much information, some of it contradictory, flying around so rapidly, a key role of our institutions is to act in concert. Human nature is such that while we are prone to panic, we also crave reassurance there’s no need at all to worry. We’ll go a long way trying to believe anyone who provides it.
If a dozen organizations do the right, unpopular thing, many of us will wrap our arms around the one that does the wrong, popular one.
The IOC is that one outlier right now. Hey, it is rich and it is Swiss. It must know more than the rest of us. If it is not super concerned, why do I need to be concerned at all? And since I don’t need to be concerned, I might as well head out to my favourite brunch spot and touch as many countertops as possible.
What this is becoming in the short term is a war on selfishness. People who are in very little danger from the virus are in the position to spread it around to people who are in a great deal of peril. Healthy people will determine how bad this gets for the old and unhealthy.
For many, this is the first call to civic action in their lives. Judging by all the heaving bars I passed on Saturday night, many haven’t heard it yet. In short order, we will have to move from asking people to do the right thing to forcing them to do it.
However, it’s hard to insist that individuals radically alter their routines if a multibillion dollar concern such as the IOC can’t be bothered to do the same.
Because this is no longer about cleaving to some sort of Olympic ideal of perseverance or pressing forward in hard times. This has become something between dangerous obstinance and naked greed.
The IOC does not want to go to the trouble of turning a very profitable event right now into a riskier business proposition in a year or two’s time. On the list of things that actually matter, this doesn’t qualify for inclusion.
It’s clear that coronavirus will level the hospitality and entertainment sectors. It’s the responsibility of governments to mitigate that financial damage. It’s the responsibility of all the rest of us to keep each other alive.
Everyone else needs to fall in line immediately and without complaint. We don’t just need to be pushing in the same direction, but doing so enthusiastically. Coronavirus has given us an opportunity to prove there is a basis in fact for all the civil-society talk we love to hear from politicians in the western world.
There is no room in this equation for dissenters and “but-what-about?”-ers.
If the IOC wants a proper Olympics – one in which the world comes together in common cause to celebrate friendship and understanding – it might consider a cancelled Olympics the one we need now. We are already in competition with something. The stakes are far greater than medals, and the glory will go to those nations that stick together.