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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Indian athletes react to postponement, say they are prepared to enter qualification tournaments again if needed

  • The IOC has confirmed that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held in 2021, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
  • India's qualified athletes Abhishek Verma, Ravi Kumar Dahiya and others have now reacted to the decision.
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
Modified 24 Mar 2020, 23:36 IST

Opening Ceremony Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Opening Ceremony Rio 2016 Olympic Games

After weeks of speculation, it has finally happened - the Tokyo Olympics 2020 has been rescheduled to 2021. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the local organizing committee have reached an agreement with the International Olympic Council (IOC) President Thomas Bach to delay the Summer Games by a year.

This is the first time in the 124-year history of the Olympics that it has been postponed. And the reason, of course, is the fast-spreading novel coronavirus pandemic.

In an official statement the IOC said, “In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”

The Olympics will continue to be called Tokyo 2020, and not 2021. The Olympic flame will also remain in Fukushima till the Games begin next summer.

For India, as many as 74 athletes across seven different sports have secured Olympic berths. With 43% of the worldwide Tokyo Olympic spots yet to be filled, there is no clarity about the qualification structure at present. Questions have been raised whether the qualified athletes get to keep their spots, or if the entire process will be redone for the Games in 2021.

It's fair for all athletes who can't train: Abhishek Verma

Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Indian Tokyo Olympic medal favourite Abhishek Verma said he understood the rationale behind the move.


“I personally feel this is the best decision that could’ve been made. The world has never experienced something like this, and extraordinary situations require extraordinary measures. It is also fair for the shooters in countries that are in complete lock-down," Verma said.
"For us, we could still practise for the past month, but countries such as Italy, China have been under complete lock-down. For sheer fairness, this is the best decision could be made," he added.

Currently ranked second in the 10m air pistol rankings, the 30-year-old is considered a strong contender for the gold medal. However, the Haryana based shooter is not too worried about a restructure of the Olympic qualification process.

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“To be honest, this is a question of humanity," Verma said. "Even if the qualification happens again, we athletes will give our best to qualify all over again. This is not a situation that happens every day, and if required I will go through the entire process again."
"However, if you ask me, I don’t think it will happen again. But if it does, we are ready. Right now, the health of athletes is important,” he added.

Assam’s Lovlina Borgohain qualified for her maiden Olympics two weeks ago, by defeating Uzbekistan’s Maftunakhon Milieva in the Asian Boxing qualifiers in Amman. The 22-year-old is also the highest-ranked Indian female pugilist, as per the recently released Olympic Task Force world rankings.

The current world number 4 (69 kg) is disappointed about the qualification muddle, but happy that the Games themselves are not under a cloud anymore. She told Sportskeeda:

"There was so much speculation about whether it will happen or not happen, I’m finally relieved a decision has been taken. I’m a bit disappointed only because I just qualified and the happiness is still fresh, but this is a unique situation for the world and safety of athletes comes first."

The two-time World Championship medalist added:

"If the qualification process is refreshed, I’m ready. We practise everyday to become the best boxers that we can, so if it does happen again, I am ready to give my 200% to qualify again. However, if you ask me, I doubt it will happen again; the qualified athletes will keep their spots and a fresh round of qualifiers will be announced for the ones who haven't."

Closed door Games if pandemic doesn't subside: Fouaad Mirza

Currently stranded on a small ranch in the small town of Ganderkersee in Germany with his five horses, India’s only equestrian participant Fouaad Mirza remains calm despite the uncertainty around him. He told Sportskeeda:

"Equestrian sports in particular, our seasons end in October. We have no idea at this stage when competitions will run again; it could be 4 months or 8 months. In either case it would be very difficult to hold qualifications again, is my personal feel. I would think they would have to look at this sport by sport. They won’t be able to generalize."

The 27-year-old also called for a closed-door Games next year, in case the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t subside.

“God forbid, someone from the crowd contracts it and bring it to the stadium, it will create even more panic. So I feel a closed-door event is a possibility if the situation doesn’t subside. But overall, it’s a fabulous decision keeping the safety of athletes in mind," Mirza added.

Countries such as Canada and Great Britain had already pulled out of this year's Summer Games, assuming things to continue being risky this July. Hence, many believed an announcement about the postponement was imminent.

One of India’s dark horses for a medal in Tokyo, world number 4 (57kg) wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya, had previously advocated sticking to the original schedule. But he is willing to look at the bright side after the postponement. He told Sportskeeda:

"I thought the situation would subside earlier, but to be honest, it just got worse and worse. My form was really good and I was training really well, so I really wanted the Games to be held this summer, but what’s done is done. This gives me time to focus on other tournaments and also attend a foreign camp later this year, if the situation subsides."

The biggest decision IOC needs to make is whether the Tokyo Olympics qualification needs to start from scratch again. But irrespective of what they decide, India’s contingent seems confident and prepared to go through the process all over again.

Published 24 Mar 2020, 23:29 IST
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