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Keith Strudler: The Olympics On Hold

If you’re a fan of the movie Spinal Tap, and if you aren’t, then why not, but if you are, there’s a scene when the band’s manager orders an 18-inch tall Stonehenge, which he defend by showing that’s what the guitarist Nigel wrote on a napkin. In response, lead singer David St. Hubbins replied, “I mean, it's not your job to be as confused as Nigel.”

I say this because just yesterday IOC President Thomas Bach officially announced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which were scheduled to begin July 24. When asked why they took so long to announce a postponement when pretty much every other event in the world was getting cancelled and a timeline for building infrastructure was basically impossible given any reasonable trajectory of Coronavirus, Bach essentially said that because Donald Trump was looking to ease restrictions in April, it made sense to consider whether the Games could in fact run on schedule. To which the obvious retort to Thomas Bach, the head of the Olympic movement, is that’s it’s not your job to be as confused as Donald Trump.

Fortunately in the end, he did come to a reasonable conclusion, one that allows the Games to be conducted in Japan next summer. Assuming next summer is better than the last. Of course if it isn’t, the Olympics may be the least of our worries. This all likely came about not because of reasoned decision making, but more likely because countries started to drop out, beginning with Canada. Both the US swimming and track federations recommended a delay. And it would only be a matter of time until pretty much anyone who showed up could have a gold medal.

Rescheduling won’t be easy. There’s already world championships for individual sports – like swimming – scheduled for next summer. And a lot of the Olympic Village has been sold as condos to take residency later this year. Of course, the IOC needs the continued support of the corporate sponsors who basically keep the Games afloat, companies like Procter & Gamble that spend billions of dollars for brand association. So even if things go according to the new plan, expect Japan to lose billions of dollars on the deal. Of course, why should Japan be any different than any of the rest us. In the end of the day, I suppose we can all feel lucky if the only thing we lose during this pandemic is money, Texas Lieutenant Governors aside.

That said, postponing the Olympics means far more than the sum of its economic and athletic parts. And I fully understand that for the athletes who planned their whole lives for competition this summer, it feels like gut punch. Most of us could never understand the sacrifice of unwavering dedication to excellence shown by most Olympic athletes. So most of us could never truly understand their disappointment, as secondary as it may seem in larger context. But the IOC cancelling the Olympics wasn’t just about moving a sporting event. It’s a recognition that the lives we hoped to live this summer will not come to pass. See, I think we all hoped that by late July, we’d largely be back to our normal state of affairs. Like hanging out at the lake, eating on the deck, and all the other regularities of social life that make summer somewhat unique in the American vernacular. So even if this spring sucked, and it does, we’d have summer. By then, everything would be okay.

But what the IOC reminded us is that it’s not okay, and it’s anything but normal. The IOC’s decision was a recognition that we cannot guarantee that by late July, we can all gather in the name of global sports competition. That people can wrestle and play basketball and sit in stadiums next to one another. And that people can get on airplanes to watch in person, or maybe congregate at bars and house parties to watch the US take on the world. And that, more than anything, was the hope the 2020 Summer Olympics provided.

Perhaps that’s what sport is more than anything. A series of rituals that offer hope for tomorrow. That your team might win, or simply something to get us through a long winter. Without that right now, some of us are a bit lost. Which is why losing the Olympics some four months from now is even more disorienting. Even though it is, without even a shadow of a doubt, the absolute right decision.

Which also means we all have even more spare time on our hands for things like movies. And if you’re looking for one about the loudest rock band in history, I think I can help you out.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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