WITH less than 50 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, excitement should be close to reaching its peak. But instead, the clouds hanging over the Games are getting darker by the day.

This past week has seen the calls for the Games to be halted become the loudest since the pandemic began more than a year ago. A surge in the number of Covid cases has seen Tokyo placed in a state of emergency, and coupled with the fact Japan’s vaccine roll-out is proceeding at a worryingly slow pace, support for the global sport fest within the host country is at rock bottom. Surveys have shown that
70 per cent of the population is against the event going ahead, with one of the country’s leading newspapers also calling for its cancellation.

But perhaps the most damning indictment has come from Kaori Yamaguchi, executive of the Japan Olympic Committee, who said: “What will these Olympics be for and for whom? The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them.

“We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not.”

For the athletes who are preparing for what could be the biggest occasion of their career, the uncertainty must be overwhelming. Instead of the Olympics being the joyful, exhilarating experience it usually is, Tokyo is likely to be pretty soulless even if it does go ahead.

The next six weeks or so will likely see more calls for the Games to be cancelled but only the IOC, not the Tokyo Organising Committee, can pull the plug. And with billions of pounds on the line, they will make sure the Games go ahead in some shape or form.

This is despite the fact that when the Olympics and Paralympics were postponed last year, Japan had 865 active cases of Covid. Now they have more than 70,000, and cases worldwide are 50 times higher. 

As things stand, it looks like the majority of athletes will be vaccinated, and no overseas spectators are permitted. Further restrictions may yet be
implemented.

But however stringent the controls end up being in order to manage the spread of the virus, I would bet every penny I have that the Olympics will begin as planned on July 23. Whether it is the right call remains to be seen.

HeraldScotland:

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AND ANOTHER THING . . .

The reports last week that Jessica Ennis’ former coach Toni Minichiello has been suspended by UK Athletics pending a disciplinary investigation came as quite a shock.

Since Ennis’ victory at London 2012, Minichiello has become a household name, being crowned Coach of the Year at BBC Sports Personality of the Year before becoming a regular on the BBC’s athletics coverage.

 The suspension follows Minichiello receiving a written warning from UK Athletics in 2017 after being accused of verbally abusing a female athlete. 

The Englishman has not yet been charged with anything but his suspension is quite a fall from grace.

It is an interesting time in sport in terms of these kind of complaints from athletes about their treatment at the hands of coaches.

When I was an athlete a decade ago, athlete welfare was rarely, if ever, mentioned. 

There were few obvious routes to pursue if you felt you were on the receiving end of bullying or abusive behaviour by a coach.

It is very different now.  The fact athletes are so much more comfortable speaking out when they feel uneasy is hugely important for the future of elite sport.

A winning-trumps-everything mentality was emerging in some areas of elite sport in this country but there seems to have been a change in recent years.

And if athletes are comfortable speaking out about someone of the stature of Minichiello, it suggests there are procedures in place to support those who feel they are being bullied or abused.

Such behaviour is unlikely to be ever totally eliminated in elite sport, not when there is so much at stake. But it is a huge step forward that it is no longer being tolerated.

HeraldScotland:

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AND FINALLY 

The retirement of Eilidh Doyle last week was a landmark moment for Scottish sport.

The 34-year-old has been one of the most recognisable faces in sport in this country for more than a decade and, as Scotland’s most-decorated track and field athlete with 17 major championship medals, has ensured she will remain relevant for some considerable time despite hanging up her spikes.

As she admitted herself, the drive had gone and as every athlete knows only too well, if you are not fully committed, there is no point in continuing.

On the track, Doyle’s performances and results were exemplary but it is perhaps off the track that she was even more impressive. Humble, generous and friendly, the hurdler was the epitome of what a sporting role model should be.

The Tokyo Olympics proved to be just outwith Doyle’s reach but, regardless, she has enjoyed a remarkable career. 

She will be missed, but the great news is she will almost certainly have a continuing role to play within
Scottish sport in the coming years.